Black Notice, стр. 2

He had covertly glanced up at the clock several times now. I got up from my chair.

"Are you- heading back to Florida?" I asked in an unsteady voice.

"Afraid not. Washington," he said. "I'm on Face the Nation again. More of the same. I'm so disgusted by it all, Kay."

"I wish I could do something to help you," I said to him.

"It's dirty out there, Kay. If certain people knew I was here alone in your house with you, they'd start some vicious rumor about me. I'm sure of it:' "I wish you hadn't came here, then.."

"Nothing would have stopped me. And I shouldn't be railing on about Washington. You have enough to deal with."

"I'll vouch for your sterling character anytime," I said.

"It wouldn't do any good, if it came to that."

I walked him through the impeccable house I had designed, past fine furniture and art and the antique medical instruments I collected, and over bright rugs and hardwood floors. Everything was precisely to my taste but not at all the same as it had been when Benton was here. I paid no more attention to my home than I did to myself these days. I had become a heartless custodian of my life, and it was evident everywhere I looked.

Senator Lord noticed my briefcase open on the great room couch, and case files, mail and memos spilled over the glass coffee table, and legal pads on the floor. Cushions were askew, an ashtray dirty because I'd started smoking again. He didn't lecture me.

"Kay, do you understand I've got to have limited contact with you after this?" Senator Lord said. "Because of what I just alluded to."

"God, look at this place," I blurted out in disgust. "I just can't seem to keep up anymore."

"There've been rumors;" he cautiously went on. "I won't go into them. There have been veiled threats." Anger heated his voice. "Just because we're friends."

"I used to be so neat." I gave a heartbroken laugh. "Benton and I were always squabbling about my house, my shit. My perfectly appointed, perfectly arranged shit." My voice rose as grief and fury flared up higher than before. "If he rearranged or put something irt the wrong drawer… That's what happens when you hit middle age and have lived alone and had everything your own goddamn way."

"Kay, are you listening to me? I don't want you to feel I don't care if I don't call you very much, if I don't invite you up for lunch or to get your advice about some bill I'm trying to pass."

"Right now I can't even remember when Tony and I got divorced," I bitterly said. "What? Nineteen eighty-three? He left. So what? I didn't need him or anyone else who followed. I could make my world the way I wanted it, and I did. My career, my possessions, my investments. And look."

I stood still. in the foyer and swept my hand over my beautiful stone house and all that was in it.

"So what? So fucking what?" I looked Senator Lord in the eye. "Benton could dump garbage in the middle of this fucking housel He could tear the goddamn place down! I just wish none of it had ever mattered, Frank:' I wiped away furious tears. "I wish I could do it over and never criticize him once about anything. I just want him here. Oh, God, I want him here. Every morning I wake up not remembering, and then it hits again and I can barely get out of bed."

Tears ran down my face. It seemed every nerve in my body had gone haywire.

"You made Benton very happy," Senator Lord said gently and with feeling. "You meant everything to him. He told me how good you were to him, how much you understood the hardships of his life, the awful things he had to see when he was working those atrocious,-cases; for the FBI. Deep down, I know you know that."

I took a deep breath and leaned against the door.

"And I know he would want you to be happy now, to have a better life. If you don't, then the end result of loving Benton Wesley will prove damaging and wrong, something that ruined your life. Ultimately, a mistake. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," I said. "Of course. I know exactly what he would -want right now. I know what I want. I don't want it like this. This is almost more than I can bear. At times I've thought I would snap, just fall apart and end up on a ward somewhere. Or maybe in my own damn morgue."

"Well, you won't." He took my hand in both of his. "If there's anything I know about you, it's that you will prevail against all odds. You always have, and this stretch of your journey happens to be the hardest, but there's a better road ahead. I promise, Kay"

I hugged him hard.

"Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you for doing this, for not leaving it in some file somewhere, not remembering, not bothering."

"Now, you'll call me if you need me?" he pretty much ordered, as I opened the front door. "But you'll keep in mind what I said and promise you won't feel ignored."

"I understand."

"I'm always there if you need me. Don't forget that. My office always knows where I am."

I watched the black Lincoln drive off, then went into my great room and built a fire, although it wasn't cold enough to need one. I was desperate for something warm and alive to fill the emptiness left by Senator Lord's leaving. I read Benton's letter again -and again and heard his voice in my mind.

I envisioned him with sleeves rolled up, veins prominent in strong forearms, his firm, elegant hands holding the silver Mont Blanc fountain pen I had given him for no special reason other than that it was precise and pure like him. Tears would not stop, and I held up the page with his engraved initials so his writing would not smear.

His penmanship and the way he expressed himself had always been deliberate and spare, and I found his words a comfort and a torment as I obsessively studied them, dissecting, excavating for one more hint of meaning or tone. At intervals, I almost believed he was cryptically telling me his death wasn't real, was part of an intrigue, a plan, something orchestrated by the FBI, the CIA, God only knew. Then the truth.returned, bringing its hollow chill to my heart. Benton had been tortured and murdered. DNA, dental charts, personal effects had verified that the unrecognizable remains were his.

I tried to imagine how I would honor his request tonight and didn't see how I could. It was ludicrous to think of Lucy's flying to Richmond, Virginia, for dinner. I picked up the phone and tried to reach her anyway, because that was what Benton had asked me to do. She called me back on her.portable phone about fifteen minutes later.

"The office said you're looking for me. What's going on?" she said cheerfully.

"It's hard to explain," I began. "I wish I didn't always have to go through your field office to get to you."

"Me, too."

"And I know I can't say much…" I started to get upset again.

"What's wrong?" she cut in.

"Benton wrote a letter…"

"We'll talk another time." She interrupted again, and I understood, or at least I assumed I did. Cell phones were not secure.

"Turn in right there," Lucy said to someone. "I'm sorry," she got back to me. "We're making a pit stop at Los Bobos to get a shot of colada."

"A what?"

"High-test caffeine and sugar in a shot glass."

"Well, it's something he wanted me to read now, on this day. He wanted you… Never mind. It all seems so silly." I fought to sound as if I were held together just fine.

"Gotta go;" Lucy said to me.

"Maybe you can call later?"

"Will do;" she said in her same irritating tone.

"Who are you with?" I prolonged the conversation because I needed her voice, and I didn't want to hang up with the echo of her sudden coolness in my ear.

"My psycho partner," she said.

"Tell her hi."

"She says hi," Lucy said to her partner, Jo, who was Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA.

They. worked together on a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, squad that had been relentlessly working a series of very vicious home invasions. Jo and Lucy's relationship was a partnership in another way, too, but they were very discreet. I wasn't sure ATF or DEA even knew.