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Dead Barchetta

Dead Barchetta

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Published by Leigh Ellwood
Music tutor by day and tribute band guitarist by night, Matt “Lerxst” Johnston doesn’t have an enemy in the world…so he thinks. One night a pretty young woman tries to smother him in his sleep, and it’s not for the usual reasons a woman would have for wanting to inflict harm upon him! The dream he enjoyed at the time quickly spirals into a nightmare of mistaken identities and nosy investigators who threaten Lerxst’s freedom, to say nothing of coming close to discovering his grandmother’s secret “herb garden.”

Armed only with a guitar and endless questions, Lerxst escapes the discomfort of his beach home and hides out in New York City to learn the true identity of his would-be assailant. Instead he learns more about himself and what he needs to do to survive the next attempt on his life.

And what a long, strange trip it is…
Music tutor by day and tribute band guitarist by night, Matt “Lerxst” Johnston doesn’t have an enemy in the world…so he thinks. One night a pretty young woman tries to smother him in his sleep, and it’s not for the usual reasons a woman would have for wanting to inflict harm upon him! The dream he enjoyed at the time quickly spirals into a nightmare of mistaken identities and nosy investigators who threaten Lerxst’s freedom, to say nothing of coming close to discovering his grandmother’s secret “herb garden.”

Armed only with a guitar and endless questions, Lerxst escapes the discomfort of his beach home and hides out in New York City to learn the true identity of his would-be assailant. Instead he learns more about himself and what he needs to do to survive the next attempt on his life.

And what a long, strange trip it is…

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Published by: Leigh Ellwood on Dec 21, 2010
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DEAD BARCHETTA

Virginia Beach, VA

Also by Kathryn Lively
Pithed: an Andy Farmer Mystery Little Flowers

Dead Barchetta

KATHRYN LIVELY

Criminal copyright infringement.com for extra copies.000. including infringement without monetary gain. characters and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. events or locales is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means.Dead Barchetta copyright 2010 by Kathryn Lively All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. and any resemblance to any actual persons. recording. without permission in writing from the publisher. Names. Virginia Beach. ISBN-13 978-1449959494 First Edition – December. or by any information storage and retrieval system. 2010 Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Warning: the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. . is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of $250. electronic or mechanical. living or dead. organizations. VA Cover art © 2010 Kathryn Lively Contact info@dlpbooks. including photocopying. places. This is a work of fiction.

in Toronto. and to the good folks at RushCon for bringing about the events that led me to complete this work. I arranged to write the winning bidder into my next novel. it’s my hope the winner got his money’s worth! So. and to my friend Bill (aka Pumpy) for providing insight from a law enforcement perspective. thanks to the real Lerxst. After several false starts in writing Dead Barchetta. Each year the convention holds an auction of band memorabilia and other items to raise money for the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank. for inspiring the character who inspired me to return to my home genre. I attended the annual convention of Rush fans. I am especially grateful to Eddy for his bid (and Lisa. 7 . I am also indebted to my friend Joe for his meticulous critiques. and as I attended that year I wanted to do something that would hopefully raise some money for a good cause. RushCon.KATHRYN LIVELY Author’s Notes In 2006. who will soon see why). so in addition to donating signed copies of some published books. Canada. Lastly. Many attendees already knew me as a writer. my first mystery novel in six years.

DEAD BARCHETTA 8 .

KATHRYN LIVELY This book is dedicated to the memory of Bill Grizzle. 9 .

DEAD BARCHETTA 10 .

Or. The band played on. hardwood stage shredding through “Back in the Saddle” while Steven Tyler screeched and preened at my left—the next. It certainly looked like that. as my vision slowly clouded into a swirling. Nobody else in my diminishing line of vision appeared affected by the sudden and perplexing change of atmosphere. perhaps only I sensed the temperature shift and suffered as a result. A dizzying sensation overtook me. which squeezed me tightly. Maybe somebody had turned off the A/C and left us all to stifle in the heat radiating from our bodies. while the crowed rocked right along with them. oblivious. 11 . anyway. obviously working around my disorientation. One minute I was standing on a lighted. Smoke—a fire in the house. really—formed my first conscious thought when my dream took a sharp right turn toward discomfort. and goaded the line of busty blondes in paintedon white shirts jiggling against the stage. Mr. opaque white mess that stung. forcing me to kneel as the weight of my Gibson dragged me toward the cheering throng of fans crowding the stage’s lip. Nobody seemed to care that I had been felled by the invisible tourniquet wrapped around my neck.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter One Smoke. Tyler danced and strutted. my breathing slowed and a heavy mass seeped into my lungs.

and I spied Mr. Aerosmith and company faded into the ringing noise filling my head. A spotlight darkened by a purplish gel turned his weathered face into an eerie voodoo mask. The Gibson had become my albatross. Only seconds earlier the crowd had chanted my name and urged my fingers to speed over my Gibson’s fingerboard and guide them all toward melodious orgasm. Little help? Joe?” Where the fuck was Joe? The dream shifted to omniscient vision. sir. Christ. What good was a dream about hanging with great musicians if they wouldn’t lift a finger to ensure your safety? Steven Tyler proved less apt to assist. but managed to squeak out an answer. They had left me onstage to die. “How ‘bout you. shouting over the music and chaos. sir!” He leered at me. man. Lerxst?” Who could say no to that? Coming from this diesel truck-faced grandpa swathed in scarves. “Tryin’.DEAD BARCHETTA “Ya’ll here to rock?” His voice pitched close to a dogwincing octave. you son of a bitch?” **** Die? In seconds the smoke turned black and scratched my face. Perry standing far stage right. “You gonna rock out for us. lost in his guitar. Lerxst boy? You gonna rock out for us tonight or you gonna lie there like a worthless piece of shit slug?” I gasped for breath. “You gonna die? You gonna die for me. the question held more authority here than if asked by anybody else. “You gonna rawwwwwk!?” “Yes. Then he turned to me.” I barely heard myself. “Yes. 12 . He grinned ghoulishly at me. Now.

the urgency in a leathery rock star’s evil glare—juiced me into action. near as I could tell from the narrow hourglass outline rising before me. I sprang to my feet. inside to wake me. Not even the person holding the pillow to my face gave a damn that I had awakened from my dream squirming and scraping for something to grasp. or he’d decided to act like his usual dickhead self and used a free hand to record everything on his phone for a planned viral laugh among our friends and the rest of the free world.KATHRYN LIVELY nobody cared to even help me to my feet as they apparently plummeted as one through some floor-wide trap door. I might have stalled upright at the shock of hearing a female voice had not the dream transition—the lingering tang of imaginary smoke. I’d fended off a burglar. having barely passed the high school sciences. “Shit!” came a surprised curse. then happened to glance at the lighted clock on the DVD player. likely couldn’t make the connection between the existence of oxygen and its role in the preservation of life. with only the yellow glow of the streetlamps filtering in through the living room window to reveal the intruder. and a wispy girl one. “What the fuck?” I cried. grounding myself in anticipation of another assault. looking down at her. Joel. I thought at first Grandma had let my friend Joel. Either that. “Wha—?” Shit. As the pillow bore down against my face. also my band’s bassist and lead singer. I managed to turn my head toward a shallow pocket of air deep into the sofa’s cushions. A dark ponytail bobbed behind her head as she righted her 13 . then the sound of a body hitting the carpet. Three AM. and after a ragged inhale I kicked my attacker away with all my might.

and didn’t move. I guessed. I had to admit. There. I could take her easily. “Is your name Matt Johnston?” she asked. She should have finished the job when she had me unawares. Pressed harder against the pillow. then widened. bitch?” I demanded of her. she no doubt realized. I saw illuminated fear creasing her brow and twitching. That she chose to stay put rather than try to run amused me. green and brown plaid pants covered lean legs. being heavier and carrying more muscle. who the hell are you and why are you in my house?” Her hands remained high and prepared to chop. Low-slung. She said nothing. I couldn’t tell if Steven Tyler’s voice would come out of that mouth. “How old are you?” “What?” When another dizzying sensation attempted to topple me I grasped the sofa arm for support and pulled myself straight again. or bashed in my skull with the fireplace poker. however. full pink lips marred by nervous chewing from a slight overbite. My would-be murderess looked as though she’d stepped off the set of a fad teen musical. that she’d chosen suffocation to make death appear more natural and less inflicted. and her dark green hoodie—pull string missing—just reached her bare midriff. Instead of hand over your wallet. angular face. The expression on her face mixed confusion with anger—soft kelly eyes appraised my height. I got. So far. slicing into my view of her pretty. shaking away the disorientation left from the aborted suffocation. Then came four words I didn’t expect. 14 . “Did you just ask me if I was gonna die.DEAD BARCHETTA jacket and raised her hands in some kind of quasi-karate pose. I side-stepped toward the end table nearest the wall and switched the three-way lamp on to the highest setting. “How about I ask the questions? Like.

but sure enough I’d take one step out and she’d bolt for the front door. I waited. leaden and morose. I envisioned the reaction of the cops when I revealed that— Why didn’t you serve her tea afterward? I’d probably hear. “Not Johnson or Johannson or St. She held that position for what seemed like a full minute before speaking again. either. God. I haven’t gone by my given name in years.” She staggered back a step and her calf caught the edge of Grandma’s rocking chair. “You are Matt Johnston?” she asked again. “I was going to kill you. What does this—” “Oh. After all. Only then I remembered my grandmother was away with her Red Hat Society friends until late Saturday morning. wasn’t I?” Her eyes glazed over with unshed tears. shining in the lamp’s glare. instinctively rocking back so that her heels rose. with greater uncertainty in her voice. and her hands dropped to her sides. She fell into it. “Would you prefer we be formally introduced before you kill me?” That question quickly twisted her face into a kind of queasy frown. Everybody—friends. John or anything like that?” 15 . I saw nothing in the immediate vicinity I could use to restrain her—no electrical cord that wasn’t attached to a lamp or some other bulky appliance. she had my name. my pupils…even my grandmother calls me Lerxst. so at least she’d been spared this drama.” I said cautiously. The girl curled her hands over the carved ends of the chair’s arms. “Holy shit. twenty?” “Twenty-five. the nickname given me in junior high. I considered my next step. I didn’t have hers. “What are you. She looked comfortable now. Why did this girl care? “Yes.” she said on a heavy breath. and the oak creaked under the force. My phone sat in the kitchen plugged into its charger. and watched.KATHRYN LIVELY I didn’t expect that. but I didn’t want to leave the room. What burglar checks credentials? Anyway.

Now. twenty years late? “Please tell me who you are and how you got in here. we don’t have a typewriter. and why you tried to kill me. and I rarely used one except for school assignments. but somehow my inner compassion had overpowered that. complete with the addressee block and proper salutation I’d been taught in Mrs. 16 .” She fingered the faded ink address. I didn’t need to study the yellowed letter for long. I might have seen this pretty auburn-haired girl in her tight pants and peek-a-boo top and mustered the courage to make conversation. the most anybody could get out of me was an illegible five. Instead she pulled a wrinkled envelope from her back jeans pocket and handed it to me. “I said yes earlier. At any other place. “He killed my father. yet she ignored it.” Who knew that burglars delivered.” she said.” **** I’m a sucker for a pretty face and a slender build—and dark red hair. Kowalski’s fourth-grade language arts class. that postmark is as old as I am. Who writes letters anymore? Back in the dark ages before the Internet. too. “Did you write this?” she asked me. This typewritten essay. so I perched on the couch opposite her. “I’m looking for Matt Johnston. who are you?” I asked. “No. I hated them. on a weekend night in some club at the beach. sniffling. I’d hit the trifecta with this one. and I sensed she wanted to talk. For two.” I handed it back. “For one. Left-brain logic nagged at me to pin her to the ground and scream until somebody called the cops.DEAD BARCHETTA I no longer felt threatened.or six-word missive scribbled in a greeting card. assuredly surpassed any effort I might have undertaken.

” I broke in. You managed to case the place without my knowing. anybody checking the picture window might see me on top on her and give me the thumbs up rather than assist in her apprehension. When I saw the old lady—” “My grandmother. I sipped from my own can.” She sighed.” “Not murder me? Go home and forget about it?” Her lower lip quivered. Diane tapped a corner of the letter against the Formica surface of the table. people often mistook her for my mother. It happens when the women in your family hold fast to the tradition of giving birth in their teens.KATHRYN LIVELY Besides. Grandma might not have minded the “old lady” crack. I’d been watching the house for a few days to get a feel for everybody coming in and out.” she said.” I told her. Actually. In fact. “And the door was unlocked. You just didn’t think this whole plan of revenge through. “Look. but I needed the caffeine boost in order to think clearly. “I tried the side door first. Stop thinking with your dick and reach for the phone. but I don’t believe you’re an idiot. The fuck are you doing. I’d say there’s a point in your favor.” 17 . annoyed. then shrugged toward the side kitchen door. “I don’t know you. “How did you get in without my knowing?” “You were zonked out on the couch.” she said. “Right. I didn’t know what I’d have done if it was locked. Now. ignoring the soda can I’d set before her. the girl—she called herself Diane—sat across from me at the kitchen table at three in the morning. Sleepless nights and early mornings I could handle. but in truth she wasn’t that old. and as I consider myself somewhat observant. sitting with her in the room with all the knives? My dick offered nothing for rebuttal. Lefty cried. gaze downcast. “I am such a fucking idiot.

” She nodded and pinched her face into mental research mode. We call ourselves Dead Barchetta. Unless. Back in junior high my hair was a bit longer and I sort of resembled him from his shaggy seventies days. which was the guitarist’s nickname. or politics. “What kind of weird name is that? Like a Dungeon and Dragons thing?” I had to laugh. just another hapless drunk who didn’t flip over in time.” she said. “Lurks-st.” She tried it on her tongue a few times. “I take it you’re not a Rush fan. “I meant the band. then?” “The guitarist. “I’m sorry. Too many thoughts flooded my brain at fucking three in the morning.” 18 .” “I’m not into talk radio.” Jesus. Me and two friends and the entire Rush and Grateful Dead catalogs. I just wanted to go back to sleep and finish that set with Aerosmith. It then occurred to me that I should have checked her person for a gun or some kind of weapon.” I tried to sound it out as best I could for a guy about to drop and snore.” “Really? Are you in a band?” I nodded. so my older brother christened me Lerxst. then finally shook her head.DEAD BARCHETTA Easier spoken than practiced.” she said. she truly had planned to make my death look accidental. “I forget what name you go by again?” “Lerxst. “It’s a song.” “Ohhh. We hit the local bars and sometimes the Outer Banks in the summer. Of course. mainly. Why couldn’t I be this smooth in a bar on a Friday night? “A cover band. “Not that one. If only I’d spent the evening schnockered… Christ. since I play and teach guitar now. I guess it’s fitting. actually. had she a gun she could have used it on me and been out of here without needing to smother me.

Not even a traffic ticket. this time from the front pocket of her hoodie.KATHRYN LIVELY I saw it immediately. that quizzical brow displayed only by one who didn’t get the play on words.” Much I love talking shop. “It won’t rerun anywhere.” Diane pulled out a second crinkled letter. As though sensing my need for more caffeine—I had a feeling I’d need it for this roundabout verbal odyssey—she pushed the can in my direction. “Rush has this song.” “Okay. “and…we’re getting way off track here. and you won’t find it on DVD because there weren’t enough episodes made.’” I began. “His name was Alan Peterson and he was a New York-based actor. at last. “You remember this TV show from the late eighties. called Code Blue?” “No. this wasn’t the time for it. “My father was the star of that show. “I don’t even know your father.” I finished my soda and eyed hers.” Relevancy. “So he’s one of those ‘you probably remember me from such films as…’ fill in the blank actors.” Diane rolled her eyes.” How the hell could I? I was born in 1985. he mainly did guest star work and bit parts. During the late eighties I was trying to pick out Big Bird’s greatest hits by ear on the replica Stratocaster my grandfather got me. either.” Seriously. Women mostly.” 19 . It was canned halfway into its first season. “Does it rerun on Nick at Nite or something. I don’t think. and watched clarity dawn quickly. Until he got this series.” she said. What surprised me. ‘Red Barchetta. too. Nice to meet you. is that she somehow did recall it. I couldn’t recall refusing anybody a kidney in recent weeks. “What made you think I killed your father? I have never done anything like that.

Entirely probable.” Again she handed me the letter from the other Matt Johnston. adding twenty years would still put him close to forty. and there were nominations eventually…yet the show still got pulled thanks to some letters from viewers that complained about the show’s content.” “Lived. such as drug abuse and homosexuality—topics one might see on Sesame Street these days. I’m not on the Aerosmith hard-living. “He’s not at that address anymore. Ahead of me. “I’m sorry all that happened. I’m a musician. “Are you a junior.” Diane said. “Code Blue had received all this critical acclaim during previews. I figured he moved. but with it being three-fifteen AM now I figured I shouldn’t fault her. by any chance?” she asked. “You’re a bit off. I looked at the return address.” Diane said. I had to admit I felt a bit insulted that Diane would mistake me for a much older man. Apparently this guy didn’t take kindly to issues presented on the urban cop and EMT drama. in a mind like hers. it probably wasn’t the way she would have put it. raising an eyebrow. most definitely. rapid-aging plan.” I said. too. She seemed to just catch that. and talk of awards.” I returned the letter.” She shrugged. with an edge of irritation to her voice. but we’re talking twenty years ago here. but then I knew nothing about the man she initially thought I’d killed. 20 . Yes. When I found the listing for Matt Johnston in Virginia Beach. “This guy lives in Lynchburg. and I took care in reading it this time.DEAD BARCHETTA From the soured look on her face. Clearly Code Blue had been a show ahead of its time. Made sense to me at the time. “He could have been much more than that. I checked. Assuming this other Matt Johnston had been a teenager when he filed this complaint. but I’m fairly clean.

This girl broke into my house. and I pulled it from the envelope to read. but he named one specifically. die?” 21 . it was like somebody put a curse on him. But.” Four? Hardly the avalanche of protests I’d conjured in my head earlier. How or when the actor got a hold of the mail he blamed for torpedoing his career seemed irrelevant now. unprovoked. She should be sitting in jail. Didn’t your dad find more work after the cancellation?” “He did. I. and residuals from that and video sales. “A long first run can also mean a decent syndication package. Alan Peterson likely had more demons than he cared to admit in his farewell.” “Sorry. everybody was into blue-collar drama shows then.” she said. and he’s dead. but seeing Diane so distraught I elected to just read. I mean. and I couldn’t tell you what he watched on TV. Three sentences in. “When did your father ki—er. too. since I didn’t kill your dad. after the show was pulled. but my dad’s name was George. I still don’t get why you’re upset about a twenty-year-old letter. too.” “No worries. the sympathetic dolt.KATHRYN LIVELY “Not that it makes a difference. He could have worked five or six seasons. The second letter slid in my direction. I was a kid then. “Four letters of complaint took Code Blue off the air and cost a lot of people their jobs. gave her a soda and place to sit. Until…” Tears brimmed in her eyes. I realized Diane had handed me her father’s suicide note. “I don’t think common people really are aware of how much power they leverage in the industry. and tried to kill me. Dad couldn’t get anything beyond walk-on parts and commercials after that. spring-boarded into feature film roles or even headlining Broadway during the summer hiatuses…” The letter crinkled and twisted in her grip. anyway. her voice breaking. but Code Blue was to have been his big break.

Her mouth dropped open and I waited for words to justify her actions.” she snapped and rocked in her seat.” she said. Diane. too guilty to face me. “I always felt like somebody had to pay for this. ignoring me. it’s sixty bucks round trip. “I only found two addresses. Searching for an escape.DEAD BARCHETTA “About two years after the show went off the air. when I can find it. My mom discovered after his death that she was pregnant with me.” Lucky her. “My mother hung onto this until she died. pained and confused. you know? For robbing me of my family.” Diane’s gaze panned everywhere but in my direction.” “I have to watch his stuff on YouTube.” She looked at me. Did you plan a spree?” Diane twined her fingers into a knotted ball. “I’m sorry this all happened. “I’m sorry some asshole felt it was his duty to get a show cancelled when he could have just not watched it if he didn’t like it. It troubled me.” “There were three other letters that got your dad fired. “to get an idea of what he was 22 . anybody. “Matt Johnston and one other lady in New Jersey. So I hopped the Chinatown bus here. to accept this wasn’t a detour in my dream. I don’t see how killing me. resting them on the table. She’s already dead. would benefit you or your father. who knew? Apparently three-twenty in the morning had that effect on her.” she said. too. then gazed around the kitchen again as though taking in the surreal moment. but the kitchen remained cold for early May in Virginia Beach.” I said. and I keep this letter with me everywhere I go. Figured if I could get Matt Johnston to realize how many lives he’d ruined. But. my father could at least rest in peace. “You never even knew the man and you want to exact revenge anyway?” I tossed the letter back. “He’s still my father.

about the work?” I asked. “I don’t want to go to jail. I needed to remain the angry one here. I’d have done it by now. She had plenty of time before sunrise. Her hands played with the frayed hem of her hoodie.KATHRYN LIVELY like.” “Am I really? Some chick breaks into my house and tries to smother me in my sleep.” “If I’d wanted to kill you. There would have been money and more work…he would have lived to see me being born. “How many TV shows are produced in a year? It might be more now than back in the eighties. but even if Code Blue lasted ten seasons do you think film roles and the A-list were guaranteed for your dad?” Anybody know what the cast of Ally McBeal is up to these days? I sure as hell don’t. “I need to make a phone call. Please!” she cried. but the risk of provoking her loomed large in my head. Clearly I’ve been deprived of some oxygen to display such a lack of common sense. I was the one pissed at her. I’d say this to Diane. restlessness.” Her tear-filled eyes pleaded with me. Besides. My chair nudged the linoleum underfoot. Fidgeting usually spoke to me as a sign of planning. Gears worked in her head that she didn’t want me to see—her silent perusal of the kitchen could have been a plan to reach for an unattended knife or corkscrew to finish the job. Finally I stood. Said losing that show was the worst thing to happen to him. I didn’t kill you. 23 .” “Can you honestly say that. Mom said he drank a lot before he died. and I offer her hospitality instead of tying her up so she won’t get to me again. you’re fine. and how things could have been much better for us if they went a few seasons more. Struck me that Alan Peterson had been the type to blame others for his misfortunes rather than work to overcome them. “What if he’d ended up doing commercials and bit parts afterwards regardless of the show’s run?” Diane didn’t answer.

so close to the ocean. Even though a shot of adrenaline boosted me out to the dark sidewalk in seconds. Whichever route she’d taken.” I said. setting the chain this time. Where the house sat.DEAD BARCHETTA “Well. she could have quickly slipped down the public beach access walkway and started a brisk run down the shore. she hadn’t looked back. and hit the pavement running. screeching for me to die. or else ducked through any of the fenceless yards into the thick brush dividing the neighborhoods from Shore Drive. son of a bitch! 24 . First mistake. she’d had enough of a head start. “Hey!” She got to the side kitchen door—the same unlocked one she’d used to get in—before I could move. The second she left my line of vision I heard a deep scrape of chair legs. you’re obviously not all there. “Damn it. I turned my head. and reached for the phone to detach it from the charger. What sleep I managed before my alarm went off filled my head with visions of Steven Tyler chasing me around the stage with a pillow.” I left her to the dying night and went back into the house. Not a trace of her under the lamplights.

even as I burrowed deep into the sofa cushions and crushed a pillow to my face to block the light of morning—and yes. Thanks to some vengeance-obsessed runaway. They never reached their destination. my parents left my older brother and me to the care of our paternal grandparents while they embarked on a long-delayed honeymoon. and try to do the same for a number of lovestarved cougars seeking a diversion from their withering marriages. and I seriously considered canceling my appointments. Growing up under my grandparents’ supervision. I now realize.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Two One fine spring day in 1990. I wouldn’t be in top form for work. I was aware of the irony in doing that. if I squint. seeing as how she allowed me to remain under her roof until such a time I could support myself completely in my work. At least some of the women coming on to me in my cramped studio are easy on the eye. but the memory of hearing that sobering metaphorical revelation instilled in me the importance of a good night’s sleep. Yet. By day I teach classical and rock guitar to precocious children. and years later I would learn that what remained of their car after the semi-truck operated by a sleep-drugged driver hit it could have filled a shoebox. It wasn’t so much the lack of sleep bothering me as the subconscious guilt trip taking on my grandmother’s voice. An exaggeration. thank you—I couldn’t relax. my brother and I were permitted to pursue “one sport and one instrument” throughout our school careers at their 25 .

“You look like hell. Chad.” “I don’t have the brain capacity for that now. digesting. I just wasn’t in the mood. appraising me with a crooked smile. the tale of Diane. and is now an investment banker in New York. elbows on knees. My friend and bandmate Jack Kline—piano. After I left the house.” Today I’d have to use the spare I kept in my studio. and the dead actor spilled forth in a rambling monologue that inspired a multitude of facial expressions from my friend. he sat there for a second. however. Rather.” I said. “You’re making this shit up. the pillow. trying to block the myriad of morning noises from outside until the pounding in my ears proved too much to bear. Bleh. Then. Yes.” “It wasn’t like that. What was her name?” I set down my guitar case and slumped into an opposite chair. His boss is a jazz lover who once worshipped at the altar of Bjorn Borg.” He leaned forward. Nice as it would be to brag about a night of raging monkey love. most of which bordered on amazement. After a quick shower and a microwaved breakfast sandwich. five years my senior. and Jack loved a good story. Despite my shortcomings as a team player.DEAD BARCHETTA expense. “Diane. got a full scholarship to play the sport at University of Virginia. thinking it offered the least amount of risk toward hand injuries so I could concentrate on my music. 26 . I got halfway down 264 before I realized I’d forgotten my guitar. chose the saxophone and tennis. Jack. early this morning. She tried to kill me last night. Finally. After much prodding. I headed to the studio in Virginia Beach’s downtown area where I rented space to meet my first student. “I want every last filthy detail. organ.” “Hot. some people are just that lucky. I chose soccer. and percussion when we do live gigs—had just seen off an early pupil and now lounged in the waiting room. I lay silent for a few more minutes.

I don’t think she’s going to try it again. I flicked three packs of sugar together to clump it at one end before adding it to my mug. “What’s her looks got to do with anything. I recalled Diane’s gentle face. My nine o’clock—Mrs.” I thought about all that pretty red hair and those long legs. if she’d been a real troll you’d have called the cops first thing. I’m a romantic pig at heart. I checked the day’s calendar.” Yet. anyway?” Over my shoulder I saw Jack shrug. “Plenty. No doubt she’d arrive twenty minutes before my next pupil and expect the full lesson time. “I mean. I’d move her back. she got away. She apparently charmed you enough not to let you tie her up…but. okay?” I broke in. The stir stick must be able to stand to attention on its own before I can drink— that’s how I know it’s right. “I don’t know that. if she were really hot—” “Look. but I’d long ago figured her for 27 . I didn’t concern myself with that.” My senses perked up with the strong aroma of whatever generic price-club roast had been brewed. the soft curves of her cheeks. maybe I did. so it happened. “It’s over. I could even remember how the pull tab on her zippered hoodie jacket had lodged near her collarbone. deep down. and I’d wondered if she had the habit of sliding it up and down along the teeth when she was bored or nervous. Jack!” I stood and lurched forward to the coffee station. forget I said anything. and the rosy tint to her skin.KATHRYN LIVELY “Fine. I’m a pig. “The chick tried to suffocate me. Yes. wishing I could at least have seen the back of her better as she ran from me. “Well. right?” he asked.” Moving toward the unoccupied reception desk. she must have been a looker. Was she hot?” “To be honest. Laila Cook with the too-long fingernails and the too-short skirts—was late yet again.

guy. “Seriously. I could relate to her there—how many times had I said I hated the man who killed mine. missing her dad. who is B) a retired Navy SEAL and lifelong member of the NRA. too. Cook. sort of. She’d mentioned coming down on the Chinatown bus on a roundtrip ticket. “You gonna look for her?” “Don’t know where she is.DEAD BARCHETTA the chronically tardy type—I tried once to set another time. I’m sure. if only Mrs. Diane’s face returned to me. you get another one in dinner theatre. equally sharp high heels. 28 . interrupting my train of thought. I could head over to the makeshift depot around midnight to see if she were stupid enough to escape that way. sometimes to good people. Ob-la-di. Part of me wanted to do it. A tempting proposition worth pursuing. The bell on the door sounded. and lock all the doors at night from now on. on her time. pathetic and distraught. who very likely can C) kill me with only his thumb and enlist a few government higher-ups to dispose of my body in some remote corner of the Iraqi desert. Or. This other Matt Johnston. You lose a job in television. and in sashayed Mrs. It wouldn’t take much to place a call to the cops and tip them. I’m familiar with the dance myself. The other half just wanted to forget her.” Another lie. Cook weren’t A) still married to Mr. ob-la-da. Cook with her blood-red nails and matching. wasn’t thinking of the welfare of Code Blue’s cast and crew when he wrote his letter.” Jack said when I joined him again. and she showed up late for that one. He just didn’t like a TV show and thought his life was better off without it on the air. Jack might suspect it’s a tactic to get me to agree to after-hours tutoring. and it took a while to accept that. in the event she had tried to do another dumb thing and dig the hole further. even though it wasn’t intentional? Things happen. coffee in hand.

I’m not sure if she’s the type to favor an audience now and then.” 29 . and in turn preserve their hearing for the year-end recital. “I’m free for lunch if you want to go somewhere. The black pencil skirt and loud kimono blouse combo she wore suggested anything but anticipation of a morning spent plucking through chords.” I said pleasantly. which no doubt annoyed the crap out of him. Cook take my arm as I escorted her to the back. but as I didn’t feel like having my life threatened twice in the space of the coming weekend I spun on my heel and flipped the deadbolt back. holding no guitar. with a knowing leer in my direction.KATHRYN LIVELY And. Cook. because a number of my pupils are underage. “If you don’t mind. “What are you in the mood for?” I let Mrs. I never bolt my door during a session. “How about Chinese?” **** No sooner than I crossed the threshold into my studio did I hear the door snick shut. Lerxst. I’m not averse to having parents sit in on sessions if they hang around—we make the room despite the eighty square feet of working space. how are you?” he greeted. “Mrs. Luckily. What the hell. then the lock. as plain as day. With Mrs. Piano instructors got little old ladies with support hose wanting to learn gospel hymns—not my fault he chose to pursue the wrong instrument for seduction worthy of reenactment in a Van Halen video. Jack rose and. Cook. retreated to his private space. She didn’t give him a second glance. I’m on the clock now. there are obvious reasons for that. As I have one of the few studios without a window looking out into the hallway. “There is a safety code to which I must adhere. many have chosen to trust me with their young ones.” he told me.

no small feat in this former utility closet. too. wavy blonde hair. “Well.” she corrected. you’re on my clock. calculated. and reached for my acoustic guitar. Cook—Laila—I always started the meter spot on her appointed time. Lerxst is banging that Cook broad in his studio. She crossed one leg over the other and the skirt slid back far enough to give the morning an NC-17 rating.” The spare is a nylon-stringed Hohner that Jack picked up in a Goodwill for ten bucks. her voice soft and suggestive.DEAD BARCHETTA Mrs. I won’t tell.” I was more concerned with keeping my dick attached to my body. It wouldn’t take much for somebody to see me disappear behind a locked door with this man-eater and broadcast it on Facebook. Don’t think Mr. otherwise it works well enough to get through an hour-long lesson. “I’m a big girl. as though cameras recorded us for some lame reality show. “I don’t like that thing. Mrs. Yet for Mrs. I know it. the one closest to the Spinet piano that remained here when the other piano instructor left. Cook—” “Laila. I ignored. Matt. “—we’ll have to make do with the spare. Mr. People here love their gossip. You enter my studio. Cook wouldn’t. You don’t have to worry about appearances with me. Her tardiness had cost her ten minutes of valuable learning time. You and six other people like this. There is residue from stickers that didn’t make it all the way off spotting the body.” Mrs. I maintained an arm’s length distance.” she said. since you’ve once again forgotten your instrument. and the bottom pin is cracked. Every move seemed rehearsed. Cook soured as she took one of the plastic chairs. Cook won’t try to force feed it to me as my jeans stain dark red with fresh blood. Cook shook her head a bit to brush back her long. “Why don’t you just give me a ukulele?” 30 . “Oh.

took the opposite chair. I handed her the guitar.KATHRYN LIVELY “Why don’t you remember to bring your guitar to the studio where you’re supposed to learn to play it?” I tried to keep my voice level. not looking at her. mahogany-necked Taylor acoustic for which I would have traded bone marrow or a kidney. “Not bad. apparently buying some story about his wife wanting to explore creativity at the midpoint of her life so she wouldn’t die with regrets. had laid down at least two grand on a sweet. it left little room to put up with Laila Cook. but we were going on four consecutive weeks of interrupted lessons and innuendo and unwanted flashes of thighs and thongs.” I nodded.” I worked out the tablature to the “It’s Raining Men” chorus as best I could. but I take music too seriously to horse around. It took forever. I do practice at home. “Well.” She drove the point home by strumming an A. Cook.” she said. but I managed that transition you showed me last week.” I got a look for that remark. Mr. yes. With Diane weighing on my mind. desperate housewife and get results. She let the guitar wobble on her lap a bit before realizing I meant business. you’re not very attentive. “Before you ask. It sounded very fluid. “I’m beginning to suspect that you’re gay. make no mistake. “Now why would you think that?” I asked. “We’ll be seeing you at Bonaroo soon. and positioned my fingers on the fret board of the Yamaha beater spare I keep in my studio. I could think of dozens of places where she could pout and preen and play the dissatisfied. she draped her right arm over the body and toyed with the strings while moving her other hand into position for an actual chord. She didn’t catch my musical joke. Both feet on the floor. followed by a C. I get paid for these lessons. “You know. are you?” From under my lashes I could see her roll her eyes and look 31 .

“Tells me you’re actually paying attention.” “And you’re not doing that so much lately. “I always focus on my pupils during lessons. Not a chance. were she my woman. Cook snorted. All I could think about was Diane. “Whatever. I’d want nothing more than to roll around in the sack with her all day at the risk of losing my job due to chronic truancy. I shook my head. “Mrs. I looked up to see her staring expectantly at me for some kind of response. I apologize for 32 . I replayed three-fifteen in the morning in my mind. Then she’d come back with. and wonder where she was now. and she had to answer to that. but what more could I do? She’d posed a threat to me. I watched Mrs.” “That’s the point. presumably for somebody else to favor her with a cartoonish.” she sang. Cook that. You’re no different. and here I’d completely tuned her out. of course. which is good. and stilled the vibration of the strings. as though trying to puncture it.” I set down my guitar. and my head’s not into it this morning. of course. Cook…” “Laila. that piano bench looks sturdy… Yet I couldn’t manage a suitable comeback. “It’s nothing to him. pondering what I could have said or done to keep her at the table. Normally this would be my cue to gasp in disbelief and assure Mrs. and everything I do wrong. and I can accept your husband’s money without feeling bad.DEAD BARCHETTA about the room.” Here.” I said. I’d scared her. Sometimes I think he’s happy to have me out of the house. You focus on my hands. I needed to watch my tongue.” Mrs. with the threat of a phone call. Cook’s ice-pick heel twist in place on the floor. hey. eye-bulging stare. “You were late. as though she got me on my knees. trite or otherwise.

KATHRYN LIVELY

that, so what do you say we just scrap this session? No charge, and I’ll prorate your next appointment.” “That’s next week!” she said a bit too loudly for the room. One would think I’d refused her oxygen in the interim. “I know,” I said. “You can use the time to perfect that bridge and some of the other things we’ve been working on.” “We can’t do a full hour now?” She pouted. “I can wait if you need to clear your head. I’m in no hurry to get home.” She reached for her purse. “You need a cigarette? I have a pack—” “I don’t smoke.” She winked. “Something else, then? You partake?” I saw a flash of rolling papers between the wallet and lipstick. “No comment,” I said. “Besides, I have a full docket on Saturdays. Looks bad in front of all the kids.” “Uh huh.” She smirked. “So your head will be in the game for them, but not me?” “What can I say?” I offered as charming a smile as I could manage. “Sometimes you make it hard for a guy to concentrate.” She liked that answer, I could tell. The shoulders rolled back and out thrust the ample bosom. “Speaking of hard…” she began. I broke in, “I have an hour free this coming Monday at eight, if you don’t mind getting up early. You’ll have two lessons next week instead of one.” Ugh. How many more involuntary innuendos could I pitch? I didn’t need to twist her arm. Laila shrugged and stood. “Might as well. I don’t know what I’d have accomplished on this Fisher Price toy,” she said, her nails flashing in my line of vision as she held the guitar out like it would bite her. “Since you have some free time now, how about some coffee?”

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“I had a cup earlier, but feel free to help yourself in the lobby.” I just wanted her gone so I could decompress. “You know that’s really not what I wanted.” Of course not. She really meant how about I bend over this piano bench with my skirt upturned? I held open the door, a move thankfully timed to the appearance of Jack with his next pupil, strolling down the hall. Perhaps we could end this appointment sans drama. “I wish I could take you up on that, but I have a full day ahead of me as it is,” I told her. Out came the hand, and the door pressed shut on Jack’s knowing nod, and nearly on my fingers had I not moved them away so quickly. I sighed. “Matt,” Laila moved too close for my comfort. Up close she proved as beautiful as any girl half her age, but I could plainly see she had help. Still, perhaps in another situation, away from the student/teacher entanglement— and without lethal spouses to lurk and attack—I might have shown some interest. “You can’t say you don’t find me attractive,” she said. “Every time I come here, I read your body’s reactions. You won’t look me in the eye, like right now.” True. I wouldn’t meet those piercing hazel-greenish eyes of hers. One second of contact and she’d have me in some kind of tractor beam. I couldn’t risk it. “You shift and sometimes your fingers shake when you play.” She enjoyed this, her voice light and teasing; I kept my eyes focused on the door, the floor, anything not soft and sexy. “Lerxst, why do you resist?” “You’re married. You know why.” Laila shrugged. “Just think of me as one of your band’s groupies. One with benefits, I hope?” I had to laugh at that. “You’ve never seen me play a live gig, otherwise you’d know the average groupie for a

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Rush cover band is a forty-year-old male war-gamer who can recite Dr. Who dialogue on demand.” That confused her enough to allow me to open the door again. “Mrs. Cook, I’ll see you Monday,” I called into the hallway for appearances. If anybody with earshot did believe I was banging the Cook broad in my studio, I hoped this time they thought differently. If anybody’s going to buy a rumor, I’d hope they wouldn’t think I don’t last but five minutes. Mrs. Laila Cook didn’t argue or try another tack. With one last beguiling smile, she brushed past me and toward the lobby, walking with such a wide sway to her hips the walls might have dented on impact. Exaggerated for my benefit, likely, but yet I stared until she disappeared through the doorway. Alone, I closed the door and slumped against it, and thought of alternative careers to try that posed no threats to my health.

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Chapter Three
We had burgers for lunch instead of Chinese. I didn’t mind, since Jack offered to buy. However, he used money initially owed me in the first place. Good thing I’m a cheap date, since I got a fair amount of change back. Having made it through the day relatively unscathed and unmolested by Mrs. Cook and the three subsequent— albeit less aggressive—MILFs come to practice, I locked the studio around five. Jack rolled his sticks between the palms of his hands, bouncing from foot to foot as I fumbled with the keys. This gesture usually indicated he wanted to rehearse or jam a bit, but since Dead Barchetta didn’t have a gig planned for several days, I wasn’t in the mood. “What are you doing tonight then?” he asked. I shook my head. “I’m ready to call this day done and do it over better tomorrow. Going home, eating a pizza, then bed.” I hated seeing the disappointment on his face. Like me, Jack didn’t have anybody to kill time with in the fun sense. Much as I’d like having a beer or shooting a game of pool, I couldn’t bring myself to suggest it. The look back with a good laugh over my attempted assassination wouldn’t happen for years yet. “Joel should be off soon,” I told him. Our bassist waited tables at a chicken wing joint on the Oceanfront. Jack took the hint and nodded. “I’ll stop by,” he said. “You gonna be okay, what with…you know.”

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“I told you before, I don’t think she’s coming back.” I heard the resignation in my voice as I said it. Did I want Diane to return? Not to finish what she started, no, but I figured she had more to tell when we spoke last night. I wondered if she needed an ear to bend, and doubted she’d get one on the Chinatown bus headed for home. “Okay, well, give me a call if you change your mind and wanna get together for a beer or something. I’m in no hurry to turn in.” “You got it.” Despite the thick traffic heading toward the beach, I made it home in good time. Grandma and her crew would be boarding a bus now to recover from singing and swinging with Tony Orlando in Branson, so that left me to my own devices. I could get some pizza and download a movie to my laptop, maybe meet up with Joel or Jack if sleep didn’t come soon…or scour Virginia Beach for my would-be killer. I pictured Diane sitting across from me at the kitchen table, nervous and cute despite her treachery. For all I knew, the remark about the Chinatown bus was crap. She might have had a car, or taken the Greyhound, or not lived in the New York area at all. What if, too, the girl was local, and still lurked somewhere around the beach with delusions that another unsuspecting soul had driven her father to audition for God in person? Hell, how was I supposed to know her father really was this dead actor? The guy could be alive, selling used cars in Richmond, convinced his special princess walked on water and wouldn’t harm a fly. Regardless of her mental capacity and whereabouts, I knew I wouldn’t feel better unless I put some effort into finding Diane—assuming that was her name, I didn’t know anymore—and making sure she hadn’t left a wake of bodies behind her.

37

which didn’t leave room for enthusiasm. “Isn’t the whole point of open mic to let bands who want to be there show up?” I asked. but this happened. to light the fire. I had several hours to kill before I needed to be anywhere. and the one band they scheduled back out. They’d have to prop me up to play in this state. Worth a shot as a starting point. drum up some PR for the NorVA gig later. and if I didn’t see Diane I’d have Joel do up a sketch from my memory and I’d check the other bus and train terminals around Tidewater. I had a pie delivered to the house around six. We figured it’d be good for the band. I was full of pizza. different dream: this time I got to stand in for Kirk Hammett following an overzealous Twister tournament with several groupies that sprained both his wrists. and I cut off the “Subdivisions” ringtone to acknowledge Jack. “Joel and I came up here after he got off work to listen. “Dude. I’d actually slept about an hour. then napped a bit.” he said in the foreground of raucous static. This meant. Waking up with a start. How soon can you get here?” “What?” I pitched forward on the couch until I nearly fell off. “Bad Ass is having an open mic night. “They get somebody to start the show. my pants rang. **** What seemed like two seconds later. and my limbs had turned to lead.DEAD BARCHETTA The Happy Tiger Bus for New York City runs nightly from the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant not far from the studio. though. Same couch. I reached into my front jeans pocket and checked my phone.” 38 .” Jack explained. Don’t ask what was touching the blue spot by the edge of the mat. Sleep still maintained a grip it didn’t want to release.

testing out the cymbals and proper height for his stool while Joel fiddled with their amps. I waved off the greetings of. I imagined Jack had more interest in some busty barista rather than free coffee. when this set is over. “You’ll be saying that again soon. Lerxst. And they’re buying the lattes. Luckily Bad Ass Coffeehouse isn’t far from home.” which prompted Jack to raise his head.” “Fine. so I wouldn’t have to lug the guitar and amp very far. I took in the tropical décor and strings of novelty lights alternating blinking coconuts and palm trees.” I grumbled. The large. and ten people responded. I already put it out on Twitter that we’re playing. “What’re we doing here?” 39 . You don’t have to leap off a stack of speakers. Asshole. By the time I arrived at the yellow brick hut situated on the edge of the touristy Oceanfront area. Some of the crowd of skaters and hipsters and geeks—oh. wooden tiki statue. and spotted the drum setup in one corner.KATHRYN LIVELY “Do I have to? I ate too much. I unlocked my case and strapped on my Gibson. Lerxst.” I told him. “That was fast. Oh. Once inside. They’re out here. “If they really want us there…” “Not just them. looking on at the scene in gaping dismay. Jack already sat at the drums. dislodged from the space to make room. I had to circle the block once to find a parking spot. now guarded the shallow hallway to the bathrooms.” He hung up before I could reply.” “It’s a coffee shop. I managed to find one close by. “Hey. my!—clustered at the tables and couches recognized me.” he said. and prepped right along with them. though. and bring some extra postcards for the NorVA gig.

I got to the counter and ordered a mocha to go.” he said.’ then maybe some later Rush. 40 . I smiled back.” “Thanks.” “Rock and roll. “That’s up to his voice. Our little audience. roared their approval and overpowered the ringing in my ears. I found it amusing that so many people in town recognized me on sight by virtue of Dead Barchetta. Easing past bodies standing and sitting. So we did.” I said. An older gentleman at the bar—balding and gray. I personally haven’t gone that high in ages. I did. “Crowd’s looking kinda young tonight. I packed up and waved my goodbyes to whoever acknowledged them. but it didn’t bother me. and close with Nickelback. concede to a few autographs. I’d wager his father was the boy’s age when Rush recorded that.” I said. “Glad you made it up.DEAD BARCHETTA Joel leaned close. “Next time ‘The Necromancer?’” asked a hopeful teenaged boy in a Zeppelin shirt. and offered up signed postcards to the two or three younger fans who asked. and about rattled every window in the place. tanned like leather and dressed for the indoor heat—twisted in his seat to face me. crooking my neck back toward Joel. “Good set. made more imposing by the small space granted us. as I noticed a few people with guitars rocking in place. Was thinking ‘Closer to the Heart. waiting their turn.” I nodded. however. No idea who he was. for a good twenty minutes. I begged off shouted requests for an encore. By the time the last notes of Nickelback’s “Rock Star” faded into the dark roasted air I wringed wet and wanted to pass out from the heat. Damn. Lerxst. With the audience settled down and the second act nearly ready. In fact.

” Before I could thank him. Mr. Joel nodded toward the group now gathered around the wiry. No. I moved to follow the other Johnston. Que? I turned and watched him leave. but waved a hand in the air as he walked out the door. as I looked out the window I noticed red brake lights brighten. Johnston. he looked old enough to have found sexy cop shows repugnant back in the eighties.” He smiled. “We gonna hear some more of the earlier stuff at the NorVa?” “That’s the plan. until midnight. and I begged off sharing a late night snack with a group headed for the Oceanfront to close another joint. We’re taking a longer break beforehand to rest Joel’s voice. I kinda wanted…” Yet.” she called as the older man retreated.” “Well. but a hand clamped down on my shoulder and pulled me back. Certainly worth asking. “Where’s the fire?” he asked. I thought. under the guise of a friendly formal introduction. Mr. 41 . “See you later. We helped the girls turn up the chairs. “Hang out a bit. and the only solid excuse I had for leaving. then dull as a car turned out of the café’s gravel lot. So long. Johnston. “Looking forward to it. **** By ten I’d heard enough mangled System of a Down and Papa Roach to last ten more seasons of American Idol.KATHRYN LIVELY He eased off his seat and grabbed one of our postcards from the cashier area. shaggy-haired acoustic player whaling on an Arlo Guthrie tune. Still. He didn’t face us. At least. the barista handed me my drink in exchange for my five dollar bill. Johnston’s a common name.

DEAD BARCHETTA I figured if I left straight from the coffee shop. Stepping out into the balmy night. either. the streets are bloated with cars whizzing past McMansions. 42 . retired teacher widow grandmother is sitting on a goldmine and won’t budge until she’s dead. were I to inherit the place I wouldn’t leave. Truth be told. evident even though the building stood several blocks from the shore. My Red Hat wearing. Occasionally you’d come across a bump in the landscape—the lighthouse. These days. and even long before that. but knew people who had and vouched for its efficiency considering the price. I hadn’t realized how popular the Chinatown bus was— taxis lined the side wall alongside my car. It certainly beats sweating in a Ford Taurus with bad A/C in the parking lot of an Oriental food store neighboring a midtown Chinese takeout joint called Wok and Roll. I closed my eyes and took in the cool tang of ocean air. Yeah. Beach living…I wouldn’t trade it for a record deal. To be able to walk out in your shorts and hit the surf in under two hundred steps…you can’t ask for better than that. the grand Cavalier Hotel—but beyond that one found mainly peace and quiet. Years ago all one could find in the area were a smattering of box homes and sand along the two-lane road outlining this southernmost tip of town. My grandparents had lived in their house off Shore Drive for as long as I could remember. and bungalows like the one in which I live with Grandma (they paid fifty grand for the thing) are going for close to a million dollars. anything. I’d hit the Chinatown bus depot at the right time. I had never used the bus myself. money. which is where I ended up after leaving Bad Ass. the old Edgar Cayce hospital. and about fifty people milled around the entrance of the restaurant and a nearby 7-Eleven.

however. He gestured an air guitar lick. Ah. No idea who this guy was. Our hosts were two young men appearing weary from a day’s work. His twin—tall with a shock of black hair dusting his eyes—looked up at me from the register and smiled. Still…” he frowned. shit. I discovered even more people crowded at the few tables available for eating. though. looking genuinely disappointed. or Dead Barchetta could count at least one more die-hard fan who looked too young to join AARP. “You coming?” 43 . Either he very much appreciated the Rush Vapor Trails tour shirt I wore.” “Aw. I took his hand in a strong-armed shake. slurping down gallon-sized cups of soda. The one sitting in a chair behind the counter ignored me when he glanced and saw I had neither ticket nor cash. anyway. Just finished an impromptu gig by the Oceanfront. “You play tonight?” he asked.KATHRYN LIVELY Among the crowd. like an old friend. yet Diane was not among them. With seven hours on the express to New York. “Tom Sawyer. Checking inside Wok and Roll. reed-thin Asian girls in ponytails hefted backpacks thicker than their own waists. man. Little children in pajamas clutched stuffed animals in one hand and their mamas in the other. and boys lingered on the curb with bored expressions. the latter. It was a win-win. hopefully on a good night. but apparently he’d seen me and the boys perform. “When next?” “NorVa. I hoped they could hold it.” I had a folded postcard in my back jeans pocket and handed it to him. exit the warrior!” His accent made his words nearly unintelligible. Rarely did I enjoy such a reception. “Yeah. with a Zeppelin cover group. Just a few songs. there was no sign of a wispy young woman in a hoodie nervously twiddling her fingers.

dark red hair precariously secured in a frayed 44 . and who cared what I wanted with her.” He smiled. Seats open tomorrow. “How’s the bus tonight? Any seats left?” “Bus full.” Made sense on a weekend. luck came to me anyway. probably a defense mechanism against chatty strangers. we were the best of buddies now. by that mall. “You want to go to city. told me they didn’t want to be fucked with tonight. “Sweet and sour chicken and fried rice. rang up my order. Right now. “Another time then. Not halfbad.” I patted around for my wallet. battered chicken parts sizzled and bubbled in some industrial fry vat. and maybe we could play Chinatown after all. and tossed me a scribbled-on bill. While my thick. to these people. right? Yah. he lurched into the kitchen singing what I guessed was “Tom Sawyer” in Chinese. Maybe he’d slip me some extra crab rangoons. strap him to a Fender Jazz bass. Not like I had anything else to do here this weekend.” I nodded toward his friend. just a fleeting temptation. “Next time you want. “Nah. yah.” He shot me a curious look. and a few had a look of tense fatigue that. As it happened.” “Sure. “We take out only after ten.” With that. I inspected the motley lot waiting for the bus.DEAD BARCHETTA “NorVa.” Oh. coupled with their disheveled clothing and lack of enthusiasm for an uncomfortable twilight spent upright in a cramped bus seat. ah?” I shrugged. either—put a kimono on the guy. her long. everybody looked like Diane. Diane stepped from the side hallway leading to the restrooms. and I’ll grab a soda from the case. I save you seat. Tom Sawyer. The thought to ask any of them if they’d seen a girl matching Diane’s description faded quickly—some murmured to each other in foreign tongues. “You getting to go?” he asked.

I guess fear kept her frozen. I moved closer before she could outwardly panic. Please…” She pulled away slightly. and I couldn’t fault her for that. she shuffled toward a free spot along the storefront window. Her eyes widened and her lips parted as though to speak. voice harsh and quivering. and she had no backpack or luggage to indicate this had been a lengthy stay for her. yet wavered in a tentative stance. She didn’t trust me. Serendipity. this trip had been born of spontaneity. “You want something to eat?” “The bus’ll be here soon. I wish you would. She jerked away and folded her arms around her breasts.KATHRYN LIVELY bun. It’s probably a routine stop given the time and element here. I could almost see the gears turning as her gaze darted from me to the door and back. the wafting aroma of Chinese fried chicken shifted my attention to the counter. “I didn’t call them.” I whispered in her ear.” she said. Pretty much like her failed assassination attempt. The edge of her bus ticket poked from one pocket. I’m not going to bother you again. She didn’t resist. Converse hightops danced a few uncertain steps as though she hadn’t finished her business in the ladies’ room. pausing only when she caught my eye. It didn’t help her that a police car happened to pull up to a space cleared by a group of teenagers. “I just want to go home and forget this whole thing happened.” “I believe you. Don’t worry about that. Hands deep in her jacket pockets. “Is there somewhere we can talk?” “I don’t want to talk. and took her arm.” Behind me. Everything she’d known about me turned out to be wrong—I hadn’t 45 . She nodded and didn’t move. her mind trying to improvise an escape. too. where my newfound Rush-loving friend had two carry out pints resting atop a withered plastic bag. hugging herself tight.

but if I had to guess she seemed more afraid of the cop car still in the lot. and I was the lesser evil.” “Thanks. it almost felt natural walking with her like this. then again I doubted the other Matt Johnston was to blame. what a mid-twenties musician with no formal psychiatric training could do for her beyond lending an ear. the only option appeared to be the house since I still had it to myself. Can she hold this ticket for another day?” Tom Sawyer nodded and twitched his lip. white passenger bus loomed large. usually open seats during the week. I had no idea where to take her now. She let me take her hand and we turned back to the counter. and I needed the time to figure out why. bro.” I told her. “Come with me. “Save it for standby. My karmic grandmother might suggest Diane ended up at our house for a reason. a shoulder. I kept an arm around Diane’s shoulder and she leaned into me. “I’m a vegetarian. I paid for the food and pointed to the ticket she pulled from her pocket. either. and half of his Chinese food amounted to little.” She shrugged and slumped into the passenger seat when I opened the door for her. Along the side street the large. Despite risking further wrath for that belief. “Wanna split my sweet and sour chicken?” I asked. Granted. “Wanna eat the extra pint of white rice while you watch me eat my chicken?” That got me a smile and some added confidence when she fastened her seat belt when she could have bolted from the car. a multitude of heads and limbs bobbing 46 . I had to admit. as natural as a girlfriend seeking intimate assurance.” Another secret slapping handshake and we were out the door.DEAD BARCHETTA torpedoed her father’s career. but I felt some kind of responsibility for her well-being. I did know this girl needed some kind of help. “My friend has something urgent to take care of here and won’t be able to leave tonight.

I’m sorry! Fuck!” She jerked.” “And I made a mistake.KATHRYN LIVELY and twisting behind tinted windows. yet she stayed. but I was almost five when my parents were killed—I have sketchy memories and no home movies. “So you’re a shrink now? You don’t know the first thing about me. That said to me I could reach her. “Do you honestly think you can go back home like nothing went down? You don’t think you need time to process everything?” “I had all day. She watched it roll up to the restaurant with sad eyes and a soft frown to match. and what stories I have from my grandma.” I said. “I’m only trying to help you here…” And some other poor soul you might take for the guy who ruined your dad’s life.” “Okay. “I’m not going to turn you in. looking out her side window. but you have a lot more than most of us do. as though bidding a silent farewell to freedom. “I just don’t think you should be on your way until you’ve resolved some issues. what makes you think you can relate to what I’ve lived through?” She folded her arms and eyed me as though I might pounce. anyway?” “The guy you tried to kill. Calm down. “Who are you. “If you’re going to keep bringing that up I’m getting on that bus and going home. She seemed keyed up enough to believe getting into my car was a bad idea. I had a bit more. okay.” she grumbled.” She frowned at me.” I told her. slamming into the seat back. you said you only knew your father through TV. The warning in her eyes implied she contemplated retaliation if need be.” She snorted. If only she had a pillow to protect her… “You know. just a few pictures.” I reached out a hand to still her but she quickly pulled back in case she thought I might try to strike. “Yeah? What did you do?” 47 . “I’m sorry your dad killed himself.

” I said and cranked the engine. and caught up on my reading. I’m sure we can find something in the house other than meat to fill you up. I pulled the car out before the bus could lurch forward into the street. “Found a library. I have rice here.DEAD BARCHETTA She shrugged. 48 .” she said. Checked my e-mail on the free Internet.” she conceded.” She looked at me again. “We’ll find something. “Well. This time she wasn’t frowning. No need to explain that she didn’t want to connect herself to a suspicious death that way. “I didn’t want to use plastic and have the charges show up here in the event…” She trailed off.” “Sure. and pasta and sauce at home.” “Did you eat?” She shook her head. At least she gave some thought to that. “If carbs cramps your style. “I’m low on cash.

“Medicine. Kept guiding me to do something more stable with my life. He’d smirked and chastised my choice to pursue music education in college. then wound it around the tines of her fork before breaking free and taking a bite. Or. She cut off one corner and slowly pulled a thinning trail of cheese.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Four “Do you act. but I’m not exactly destitute.” she said finally and reached for her Coke. and after sliding her dinner/breakfast onto her plate I dumped half the contents of the take out cartons onto mine and dug in. “Mom used to say Dad never wanted his kids in show business. actually.” She 49 . I love what I do. and to some extent his predictions came true: four years later I still can’t get on full-time with a school. I can wear nothing but a tie. so she kept that promise for him. Seems there’s always a shortage of nurses. “Nursing. Depends on how often Mrs. either. I don’t have to wear a tie to work. “Uh-uh. The refrigerator yielded two eggs and half a sandwich bag of shredded cheddar cheese. set my own schedule and.” “Like finance?” A long-regretted conversation between me and my brother Chad echoed in the dark recesses of memory.” Diane said. too?” I served Diane and shut off the stove. Diane agreed to an omelet and even helped arrange plates and glasses on the kitchen table. Cook schedules lessons. unlike Chad. We popped open a few sodas. and if you have a Masters degree in it you can make decent money.

” “Of course.” Coke spritzed in a fine mist through pinched lips. and ‘Dead’ for the. How about that—Garbo laughs.” She wrinkled her nose at that. “You weren’t on the radar yet.” I told her. It’s just what everybody’s been calling me for years.” The way she looked at me just then gave me the impression I might be easier on the tongue. Yow. You shouldn’t feel responsible for what he did to himself. “Don’t ask me how Alex Lifeson got the name.” I rejoined. maybe I’d have taken his words more seriously since they’d come directly from him and not secondhand…” The fork hit the plate with a clang and she sighed. well. like I told you before. “Tribute sets mainly. Maybe it was the lack of food that prompted this sudden shift from 50 . too.” I laughed.” “You guys any good?” “We suck donkey balls.” “Can’t I just call you Matt? It’s easier on the tongue. our drummer is one. as Grandma might say. “After the Rush song in part. “It’s typical for parents to want their kids to have something better. guitar. Dead. “If he’d have lived. “Did you always want to be a musician?” “Pretty much. I give lessons during the day and work gigs when I can with my band. If we’re feeling creative we’ll test an original composition or two. “I guess there’s some context.” “Well.” I said.” “Dead Barchetta.” “What’s your band called again? I’m sorry. downing another molten chunk of chicken.” I corrected. “We’re okay. My grandfather played all sorts of string instruments—banjo.” She rested her chin in her hand and watched me eat. “I guess you have to be a fan to get it. and everybody calls you…Lurch?” “Lerxst. mandolin. To me it sounds like some kind of snake.DEAD BARCHETTA shrugged. emphasizing the st at the end with a hiss.

“Sure. Lot of people talk about it. Grandma mellowed quite a bit after Grandpa died. the whole shebang. sit in a country-style kitchen designed in a Holstein cow motif. “Lately. I’m not used to hearing my real name. and could only imagine the type of upbringing I’d have received if my parents lived. and my grandparents were bona fide Deadheads back in the day. “I grew up with the music. free love and ban the bomb. we stick to the Rush stuff.” She smiled at that. My brother was. which neither of us crack open much. the beat-up VW van. “If you’re a good girl we’ll go through the photo albums. What else had she gone without for the last few days? Me. but when we do it’s more of a tribute to my grandma. I could understand her expression of disbelief. though.” “Really?” I pointed my fork behind me toward the living room. and accept that these cutesy Holly Hobbie potholders and dishtowels actually belonged to some acid-washed sixties chick? Truth be told. is. at least a year. Who could walk into such an orderly home. “Dare I ask if we’re having magic brownies for dessert?” She stifled a giggle with her hand. toting my dad around in this papoose wherever they went.” I wished I’d been there to see that. what inspired you to start a tribute band?” I shrugged. just don’t get upset if I don’t answer to you right away. My grandmother looked like a cross between Janis Joplin and the Virgin Mary. a big Rush fan. but they lived it—Woodstock.” Her mouth gaped open wider as I talked. Any evidence of their groovy adventures is either locked in the crawlspace above her room or gathering dust in the aforementioned photo albums.KATHRYN LIVELY confused homicidal avenger to guarded flirt. but that’s another story. 51 . “So. Even Grandma calls me Lerxst. We don’t do combo shows often.

“I draw. so why creep her out just yet? “You’re right that I don’t know anything about you. Some of it is growing in the small greenhouse attached to the back of the house.” I shrugged again. I’m told I come from a long line of people who give the shirts off their backs to anyone in need. Sober and conflicted right now was enough for me to handle. There has to be more cranking inside that head than vengeance and despair. though. I’m a graphic artist 52 . Besides. picking at the remains of her food.” I flipped my head backward to rustle my flowing locks.” she said after I shook my head. after everything that happened. I’m either really lucky or you’re some kind of sap. Maybe I am too trusting. “If you don’t act and don’t heal the sick. I keep thinking how I should be in jail. and thankfully let the comment dissolve into memory. “I guess her being a former hippie explains a few things. what do you do when you’re not fluffing pillows?” She rolled her eyes. if one bud looks less fuller than it had been previously. If there’s one bent leaf.” I slid my forearms on the table and rested my chin on crossed wrists. “You don’t know anything about me. she’s knocking on my door. and twice you’ve had me in your kitchen after midnight. but damned if I would pick a bud to share with Diane. of course—passed quickly. not everything is tucked away. and I’m not. too. “Like how I can get away living here without needing a haircut?” “You’re so laid back. The temptation to tell the story of how Grandma once did that literally—no bra underneath. That’s why I brought you home. and I can technically blame genetics for that. which Diane didn’t need to know. Well. Diane’s mood had cheered considerably as we finished eating. For good reason.DEAD BARCHETTA Check that. Grandma keeps track of that sort of thing.” Diane said. “Well.

I would like to draw some manga one day. “Let’s see how good you are. How much did he know about her evil.” “Really? You any good at art?” I teased.” She straightened in her seat. after all. too. but I paint and cartoon a bit on the side. I washed out of nursing school.” she said. if you’re into manga. and make enough that I could work for myself. “Show me. I guessed. “what should I draw? And why would you want me to?” “I might need a talented artist to design a CD cover for me someday. partly out of curiosity and partly to see if she wasn’t bullshitting.” She looked at the pencil I handed her with a cocked eyebrow and pinched it between her thumb and forefinger. as though it might curl around her wrist and bite. Draw whatever comes to mind. lifting myself slightly to reach a few sheets of blank paper and a pencil resting on the adjacent counter.” Up came the second eyebrow. fine. “Ooh-kay. I clearly touched a nerve there. I do a bit of everything. halfbaked plan? As the silence slipped toward the awkward end of the spectrum.” I agreed. It could be your big break.” I said. When I’m wound up I jam on my guitar until my fingers blister. it just wasn’t for me. “Think of it as some kind of release therapy. but she appeared not to mind it. I leaned back and over to the refrigerator. keeping my head turned and one foot pivoted in 53 . “So you must write.” “Okay. if that’s what you mean. You should draw. “I don’t suck donkey balls.” Her voice lowered a few notches there and her cheeks flushed pink. book covers. Banner ads for websites.KATHRYN LIVELY for a PR firm. I still hadn’t confirmed the dead actor father story.” “I have a friend. “But yeah.” As she set to scribbling I cleared the table and rinsed plates.” “It’s nice to have that flexibility. Friend with benefits.

She worked a lot. Smudges of No. I’ve seen the after pictures.” “Not even your mom?” Wrong question. She smiled. “Is he…?” “Yep. even though I never really knew him. That’s how I want to remember him. But. “I never really knew her. and watched her gingerly lay the drawing back on the table.” “It’s enough for me. If I never get to the Grammys I won’t complain. That and my guitar. when she wasn’t at home drinking. I think they’re fixed anyway. She added a few finishing touches to the dark pencil portrait and held it up for me to see. idle tongue. before too much alcohol and depression soured his looks and talent. I honestly thought this half-baked plan to keep her occupied while I 54 . any suspicions I had about her line of work faded away.DEAD BARCHETTA case I deemed a sudden leap necessary in order to prevent her from bolting. though. “Well. now?” Flirting came too easy.” I said. they’re not pretty. “He looks familiar. Nobody I know seems to understand how badly his death affected me. 2 gray darkened her skin. After she died I stayed with his sister until I turned eighteen. I had to admit. I have a good job and a place to live.” She smoothed one finger over the drawn hairline. either. “I wish I could show you just how good he was. Fresh tears brimmed in her eyes at that. she behaved and slipped into what I perceived was her zone—pencil scratching. “Have I really. As I hovered over her shoulder. Idle hands. If she’d kept both busy with her craft perhaps grief wouldn’t take control of her emotions and actions.” She looked up at me.” I said. scraping her lip as she worked. you’ve seen my secret hidden talents…” she began with a touch of sarcasm. “I do alright. More than what most people have. the tip of a pink tongue jutting out against the corner of her mouth. The walls around her crumbled quickly. gaze focused.

but I’m about to drop.” The way the house is built.” I helped scoot her chair back. It’s where I end up most nights. “Are you this generous to everybody who tries to kill you?” “Not everybody. She lowered her eyelids. most of the living space is on the ground floor. a guest room which serves as Grandma’s office. “Do I get to hear you play now?” she asked without missing a beat. demure and endearing as a slight flush of pink colored her cheeks.” God only knew if Tom Sawyer back at Wok and Roll would honor her unused return trip ticket. so I don’t mind.” “And what will you use?” She gave me the eye. a linen closet. I was prepared to cover that cost as well. I could see the beginning of a yawn forming on her lips as well. Either way. If anything. which I can guarantee is more comfortable than a cramped bus seat back to Chinatown. Since I brought you here. and I was getting tired. “Normally I would be happy to. and her room. I owe you for making you miss your ride. “The couch. and the realization that causing harm to somebody wouldn’t reverse what had befallen her. I suppose she really just needed an ear for venting. You can use my room. vulnerability proved too much of a turn-on for me. Ask my drummer. We could go back tomorrow to find a whole new crew working. “You’re not.KATHRYN LIVELY thought of another plan wouldn’t work.” she said. A short flight of stairs at the end leads to a spacious attic which was converted years ago to serve as the room Chad and I shared when we came to live here.” “I don’t want to put you out. It is basically a monument to my determination to fight the inevitability of maturity—ad posters for various guitar brands are still 55 . Besides. I figure I should offer you a bed. The back hallway off the front room leads to a full bath. She managed to stifle it. “Come on.

there’s a television with Nintendo components littered around the entertainment station sitting in one corner. “That was the last fresh set. and broke into the intro for Rush’s “The Trees. Our bassist handles the lead. Why spoil the effect? “Sorry.” she said and bounced a bit. don’t use too much hot water. and to hide any growing encouragement. the folksy beginning evokes a Tolkien-esque mood that ignites a hundred cigarette lighters whenever we open a set to it.” She tested my full-sized mattress. though I had to politely refuse her insistence that I sing. “Actually. I flopped down on the squatty video game rocking chair and reached for my guitar. I still have laundry to do before my grandmother gets back. and mismatched furniture completes the décor. “I just play. after all. how about a short lullaby. “The sheets are clean. Diane seemed to like it. but given the lingering looks in my direction I thought it the best way to remain gentlemanly. Not that I thought she’d attack me again. Yet another eccentricity in a room that otherwise defined the bachelor who refused to give up his toys.” I supplied. We try to come off as authentic as possible during our gigs. You want those Star Trek sheets to fit.” I said. A door leading nowhere set to one side remains a work in progress—eventually Grandma will have an outdoor staircase and private entry constructed so she can rent the room out after I move. It helped to keep my hands busy and to have an obstacle between us.” One of my favorites.” “Well. 56 .” I suggested. I changed them this morning.DEAD BARCHETTA tacked to the walls. and though she said nothing about the floral print sheets I could tell she made much of them in her mind by the way her lips quirked.

“Dunno what I’m going to do with myself. I like to accommodate some of my nine-to-fivers. I watched her slowly remove her zipped hoodie to reveal a tight New York Liberty t-shirt and toned arms. but not tomorrow. Pillowcase is a dead-on rendering of Leia in her heavy metal bikini. shit.KATHRYN LIVELY “Star Wars.” That earned me a boisterous laugh and a nearlyexecuted assault with the memory foam pillow she now clutched in her arms. and even though my grandmother had a fondness for strays. but it’s slow when the weather is nice.” “You work on Saturdays?” I nodded. I needed the cash. it’s usually Wednesday or Thursday so I can rehearse for a gig.” Keeping her home while I was here was one thing.” she said quietly. “Is there anyone you can talk to. 57 . She’d made a move as to throw it playfully. either. too. I didn’t think leaving her at the house alone would work. If I take a true day off. a counselor or maybe your aunt?” I asked. the nice pastel polish of her nails and the yellow silicone cancer awareness bracelet on her wrist. who only have the weekend to come in.” “Ever see the inside of a guitar studio? You could hang out with me while I practice there.” She shrugged. actually. “Though the next bus out doesn’t leave until midnight. She folded the jacket and set it on the end of the bed for lack of a coat rack. then looked at me expectantly.” she said. I couldn’t cancel the morning’s appointments. “Thanks. but apparently realized the meaning of that action and instead kept it close to her. I looked out the window. We were almost there. so I’ll have the whole day tomorrow. I sleep face down a lot here. for letting me stay. Morning. I noticed. “I should probably get out of your hair. “Sometimes. I’ve caused you enough trouble.

and as she pressed closer to me to plant her lips on mine all I could think about whether or not she had concealed a weapon in those manicured fingers that now curled around the back of my neck. “There’s a blanket in here in case you get—” I heard the dull thump and the creak of floorboards signaling her swift approach.DEAD BARCHETTA “Right. I replaced my guitar on its stand and rose. “I don’t have to be up too early. Diane didn’t seem to mind that both palms aligned perfectly with her bustline.” She didn’t want an audience. so I’ll knock in the morning for breakfast.” I had my back turned to check the closet by the stairs. I spun back to face her with my hands held out to ward off another spontaneous attack. 58 .

I can count my lovers on one hand. though I hadn’t enjoyed much to speak of in my short romantic life.” She chuckled. “I’m sorry. It shamed me to realize how out of practice I’d become with women. “I guess I really didn’t know 59 . I’m just pretty mixed up. “I think you’re right. I do need some kind of therapy or counseling or whatever.” “I heard that. so I grounded myself and kept my fingers twined at the small of her back. Only now did I notice her height. daring to go no further south. and quickly released her grasp. and in each case it took months of wooing before I saw any skin. Diane felt nice leaning into me.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Five When her palms flattened against the back of my head to secure my lips to hers. “It’s been a weird past few days. touching her heels to the floor. I relaxed a bit and let my hands slide down to her hips. but it’s been a while since somebody’s been nice to me. she had to stand on tiptoe to reach me. but in truth I had my own introversion to blame for my lack of sexual prowess. and she seemed to move me backward as though to maintain balance. She broke away and studied me with widened eyes. One would think being raised by liberal ex-hippies left me with little inhibitions.” she said.” She looked away. Her smallish breasts underneath her thin tee shirt—unfettered in her braless state—pressed softly against my chest. as though waking from a spell.

” I said. and I feared losing it on pulling away. disappointed even. rationalizing one move versus the other. “I hope you don’t think you’re obliged to pay me back in that way. I could almost hear a vocal protest.” Diane said. but the rhythmic rise and fall of her heavy breathing synched with my own. I could be in jail now if you hadn’t—” I tucked two fingers under her chin and turned her face toward mine. Lerxt Junior strained against my zipper in a bid for freedom. She became the only point of heat in the room.” All the more reason to fuck her now. “I’m sorry. I should guide her to bed and join her. “I can’t see why you’d be concerned about what I think. but I elected not to rebut that point. yet an underlying suspicion kept my focus on her touch. How a quick roll with a stranger might improve her depression over never knowing her father seemed lost on me. She didn’t move. I should try therapy myself once my life settles back into a regular.DEAD BARCHETTA how to properly thank you. “Yeah.” Diane’s voice sounded sad. said my penis. Inside my head there waged a debate on the next move to make. favored 60 . I should let go and retreat downstairs. dull routine.” she repeated with her face dangerously close to my chest. The rest of my body.” Down south. She didn’t protest when I drew her close so that her head rested against under my chin—I figured that was a safe enough position while the scene played out. chiding me for turning down a gift lay. in the event she tried to nick the wallet from my back jeans pocket. Both heads of mine warred with one another in the awkward silence. however. Diane felt warm and inviting. including ones I’ve tried to harm. “Tomorrow you’ll get back on a bus and we’ll never see each other again. “I don’t want you to think I go around propositioning guys I barely know.

” She looked shyly away. “Whatever it is. proved I held fast to the stereotypes. What more could there be to tell? I’m married.” I reminded her. much less spent the night in it. I can sense that just being here with you. since we’ll never see each other again. “Or I could try again.” I told her. Just as I lay beside her to pull her closer. “Of course. It’s why I don’t date much. though. she stilled me with a hand to my chest. 61 . like some fucking black widow spider. in a better way.” I swore in that moment Lerxt Junior figured out how to undo a zipper from the back side. she’d said it with sincerity. rather than the one of me trying to smother you. kissing her all the way down onto the mattress.” “You’re not like other men. this tends to turns guys off. Lerxt Junior. tapping on my fly. I suppose she’s right to a degree. “I don’t think it could be as shocking as our introduction. “There’s something I should tell you.” she said plainly. What logic remained standing raised the white flag and Diane squirmed in my grip to face me. “unless. down toward the foot of the bed. seeing as how it’d been a good year since a girl saw my room. you believe for some reason I won’t be bothered. No quirk of the lips to imply a joke. I’m a man.” She looked up and smiled.KATHRYN LIVELY the notion that I might benefit. Before I could completely grasp the situation I was grasping her backside to support her weight as she lifted her legs and wrapped them around my torso. I really am going to kill you after this. either.” God almighty. “Trust me. Slowly I walked us back to bed.” “Or proposition guys you barely know. if we do go any further. it might be better to part on a nice memory.

62 . biting her lip. I’d detected nothing in her walk to clue me. there’s no point in bringing it up. then again. “I’m an amputee. looking at me like she didn’t know whether to strip or bolt. her words encouraged me.” “Really?” The way her pants hung. right? It’s not like some Creepshow limb’s gonna pop out of your jeans.” I sat up in bed. Felt fine to me. I hadn’t been so observant since I was more on guard about what she might do rather than how she was composed. I held up one palm in a Boy Scout salute.” She rolled her eyes. and I ended up pecking her cheek. “I’m missing part of my right leg. Why say anything about a fake leg unless the pants were definitely coming off? “You say that now…” Her voice faded away.” She stood with some hesitation.” “A what?” Instinctively I squeezed the arm I presently cuffed. “How were you able to get away so quickly the other night? You bionic?” “Ha ha. “Maybe I’ll say it again. In truth. To be honest. “Does that freak you out?” she asked. “I was in a car accident when I ten. tucked my legs under me. You get used to it. “Depends. then lowered to kiss her again. Diane having half a leg fit in naturally.DEAD BARCHETTA “Well. if I won’t be fazed.” Her face fell slack. and folded my hands in my lap. this entire situation rang as odd to me. “You have a prosthetic. Diane took a deep breath. Any other body parts of yours come off?” “No. is there?” I asked.” I said. nothing seemed unusual. I’ve worn prosthetics for years. Let’s see it.” “I’m not freaked out. She turned her head sharply before I could touch down. and I had to wonder if her reticence implied a past runner had made a right turn toward the centerfield bullpen exit after getting to second base.

KATHRYN LIVELY

“And I promise I won’t try to snatch it to keep you detained.” Diane smiled. “I trust you. Don’t know why, but I do.” Same here, I thought. Then Diane undid the snap on her jeans and eased the material down over slim hips and thighs. I caught a glimpse of a small tattoo obscured by the thin waistband of her thong (I definitely didn’t want to contemplate how she could run away wearing that), which barely dented her near-perfect, pale skin. At the knees, though, the landscape changed a bit. Where there should have been a kneecap on her right leg, there appeared instead a curved, dark plastic disc that resembled something a hockey goalie might wear while on the rink. On looking closer, I saw it wrapped around her entire leg, presumably to keep everything together. The rest of the leg looked normal, bearing a skin tone similar to rest of her. She kicked off her shoes and pulled away the right sock to reveal five artificial toes, the nails of which were painted bright red. “Do they flex like on a real foot?” I asked. Diane shook her head. “The ankle and ball of the foot will pivot as I walk to mimic natural movement, but that’s about it.” “It looks nice,” I said, for lack of a better compliment. At least here I stayed safe. “From a distance I bet I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if you wore a long skirt.” “Thanks.” She remained standing there in her t-shirt and panties, as though wondering what to take off next, or put back on. What else could I do, given it’s not every day a half-naked girl—criminal or otherwise—shows up in my bedroom? “So,” I slid back into a prone position and rolled onto my hip, “do you leave it on when you’re…?” She shrugged. “I’m good either way. It hardly figures into sex.”

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I could take it or leave it myself, I decided. I beckoned her closer. Diane eased onto the covers beside me and I reached over her for the end table drawer to find the one thing we did need that night. “Come here,” I said. And she did. Twice.

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Chapter Six
I don’t usually leave the curtains open in my room because the window looks out eastward. In the summertime especially I’m wakened by bright rays filling the room and blinding me out of nice dreams starring myself jamming with some of the greatest musicians who ever lived. This morning, the sunlight bore down on the cherry red Strat Chad bought for me last year, and reflected a million flecks of a shattered rainbow while Stevie Winwood, beside me at his Hammond organ, crooned about low sparks and high-heeled boys. I tend to bounce around different scenes in my sleep, so no doubt this moment had been unconsciously inspired by the song on my alarm radio. If you had just a minute to breathe, and they granted you one final wish…would you ask for something, like another chance? Lerxst Junior had his answer. I returned to the waking world with morning wood and, unfortunately, a vacant pillow next to me. Shit. I should have anticipated Diane might run off at the first opportunity. At least she left me breathing, but hopefully not penniless. I bolted upright in bed for a cursory scan of the room. Guitars, video console, CD player, laptop, iPod, watch, wallet intact with cash and credit cards—all present and accounted for. I released the breath I didn’t realized I’d held, relieved to think at least the girl didn’t take me too much for a sap.

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I slipped out of bed and back into the jeans I’d shucked last night after Diane undid hers. For a Saturday morning the house and surrounding area remained eerily quiet—usually at this time of year you’ll hear cars whizzing past on the way to the beach and related attractions. Normally, too, that would accompany the sound of activity in the kitchen—cabinets opening and closing, butter sizzling on a griddle, Grandma humming a Dead tune as she prepared breakfast. I suppose, presently residing in this bizarro world as I was, I should have known better not to expect comforting familiarity. The faint hiss of a shower from the downstairs bathroom, though, tempted my assurance. “Diane?” I noticed the door stood slightly ajar, and when I didn’t get an answer I touched it lightly to send it a few inches inward. Inside, a fresh blue towel rested on the pedestal sink, and a prosthetic leg was positioned on the toilet lid. I smiled and left her to finish without interruption. At least she hadn’t left without saying goodbye, or thank you, or you were the Best. Lay. Ever. Then again, I didn’t know if she planned to sneak out afterward, assuming I slept in. Before any confrontations, though, I needed coffee. Never mind the carafe, at this point I only required some grounds, a mirror, and a razor blade. I turned into the kitchen and my heart exploded just fine without the caffeine when I saw Grandma digging through the cabinet above the sink for the box of filters. “Oh!” She leaned back and smiled. Her shoulder length gray-blonde hair, secured in a loose ponytail, shone in the morning light. Laugh lines deepened around her eyes and smile, but despite that she looked a good ten to fifteen years younger than sixty-three. “Good morning, dear,” she smiled. “Hope I didn’t startle you.” “No. No, you didn’t.” Liar, taunted the voices in my head. “When did you get in? I wasn’t expecting you until

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later today.” I moved closer to hug her and my gaze panned to the back kitchen door, where her unpacked luggage sat piled in one corner, her wide-brimmed red hat with the dark purple band hanging from the collapsible pull handle. “Early this morning, around six. The bus drove straight through, just stopping for gas,” she said, and reached for a shrunken bag of ground hazelnut coffee on the counter. “Charlie dropped me off about twenty minutes ago.” I glanced at the microwave clock to see it was well past nine. “Did Charlie take the scenic route?” I’ve always loved all of Grandma’s friends, and “Aunt” Charlie’s treated me like a nephew since day one, but damn it if the woman can’t drive. Age did nothing to improve her depth perception. Grandma glared at me. “We stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast and lost track of time, thank you. Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t expect me this early, so I didn’t think anything of it.” “I’d like to know if you are okay when you go on these trips.” “As was evidenced by the number of voice messages left on my cell.” No mistaking the withering glance sent me, but I hadn’t the brain capacity to process feeling guilty about not checking up on her. I had to figure out how to get Diane out of the shower, into her clothes, and someplace where Grandma wouldn’t find her. Not that I’m forbidden overnight guests—sometimes, I think Grandma would prefer to see the occasional giggling bird drifting up and down the attic stairs rather than wonder about my sexuality—but she didn’t need to overload this one with questions. “Did you have a good time in Branson?” I asked instead.

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With any luck. she looked so ragged and oily in those clothes. They’ll have to go somewhere for their live music fix.” Grandma set out mugs and plates.” she added. glad for the coffee maker drowning out any possible noise from the hall. but she didn’t know how to do it. so I’ll need your help downloading them to the computer. I could at least look out for Diane in the event she wandered into view. you know. too. Grandma nurtured a peculiar 68 . “Well. she’s in the shower. you boys ought to consider an engagement over there. So many cover bands. Poor thing. Got shots of me around town and the other shows. thank you for asking.DEAD BARCHETTA “Just wonderful. and I got my picture taken with her and the performers. “Diane. For an ex-hippie who once hiked across Virginia barefoot. Heart and stomach silenced. but I insisted she at least get cleaned up and stay for breakfast. “What friend?” Grandma gestured toward the hall.” I watched her rummage in the pantry for bread and cinnamon. too.” She set the pot to brew and a high-pitched hiss punctuated her answer. “I think she was surprised to see me. Grandma just assumed I had been in the shower. those fans will grow old one day.” She crossed over to the refrigerator for eggs and milk.” I slumped into the kitchen chair facing the doorway. “I asked your friend earlier. You know. “I finally got to test the camera feature on my cell phone. Here. She was trying to leave. let there be French toast.” “Sure. too. My stomach seconded the motion. You didn’t hear her when you came down?” “I was hoping you didn’t.” She tsked. Dear Geddy Lee in Heaven.” “Yeah. “There was a great Beatles tribute show that Louise Harrison hosts. I don’t know how well a Rush tribute would do up against Tony Orlando and what’s left of Dawn when it comes to box office.

liar. You’ll have to forgive my wrinkled look. though. “It’s not often we have company. “But she’s not from around here. could keep her in a lifestyle that called for her perpetual unemployment and sunbathing. looking uncomfortable. Just visiting. at some dirt bike race?” “You mean she didn’t tell you?” I asked. how our grandchildren would laugh years from now. “I have coffee brewing. so I wouldn’t expect—” “Good morning. and I swear I’ve been wearing these same jeans for three days. but I’m sure I’ll crash later.” Grandma yanked open the cinnamon container to release a pungent reddish-brown cloud. I stifled a groan at the mention of my ex.KATHRYN LIVELY tendency toward neatness.” I looked up to see Diane leaning against the doorway. Pam laughed like a stuttering dolphin and could drink her fluid weight in beer without so much as tilting. but we also have juice if you want some. not at all like Pam. She offered me an apologetic smile as she sat down. “Yeah. “I thought I’d make some French toast.” 69 . though. I haven’t changed since getting home. A shrug.” “That’s fine. Like me.” Liar. “She’s very shy.” she was saying. if you like.” “No trouble at all. leaving me to wonder how Grandma had been able to spot her first. She still hasn’t returned the engaged to be engaged ring. wet hair clumped heavily around her shoulders. “Where did you find her. then. dear. “but you don’t have to go through the trouble.” she said. “I’m still a bit keyed up from that bus ride. my longest and most serious relationship to date.” Grandma spoke over me. Oh. dressed and leg refastened.” Diane said. coupled with my musical aspirations. shy. but didn’t think our joint admiration. she loved Rush and the Dead.

which came this time almost immediately.” my grandmother told him. As easily distracted by food and pleasant smells as a man could get. too. “Call me when you’re on chemo.” You and me both. we’re going to need an extra glass. “Never you mind.” “Magic French toast?” Jack’s been after her other homemade goodness for years. “You making French toast?” he asked her.” I pulled out the spare chair. “What’s up. She offered him the first glass of juice. “Shit. “I about had a heart attack this morning.” I still wanted to know what had spooked him.” 70 .” She smiled and patted his shoulders. “There’s plenty. you look terrible. but Grandma pushed me back down in my chair. as though finally noticing her. into which he dropped. “She’s Lerxst’s new friend with benefits. “I’ll fix you a plate if you like.” he said on a sigh. a knock fell on the kitchen door and Jack walked in without an invitation. since the table was set for three. He looked white as a sheet and exhaled on seeing what he perceived was familial harmony.” Before I could ask why.” Jack then looked at Diane. He must have worried Grandma. “Who are you?” “Jack. A battersoaked slice of bread hit the griddle and sizzled loudly over her next words. “This is Diane. Lerxst. Get out the juice.DEAD BARCHETTA Reliving the memories of Liverpool and Woodstock with her little old lady friends must have instigated this relapse into unwashed hippiedom. Every time he infers he gets the same answer. I volunteered to take over while she showered and changed. I couldn’t imagine how weed might improve his concentration.

to make sure. “Amazing they can break news this quickly if he was killed so recently. Her best bet 71 . “Good thing I read the whole article. Diane looked away and turned a deep shade of red.” I muttered. training one eye on Diane.” Grandma tsked and went back to the stove. I began to wish she had killed me after all. that’s the Internet for you. Mrs. “Who would post on the Internet that Lerxst was dead?” “Nobody did.KATHRYN LIVELY “Jesus. Johnston. Eyes widened over the rim of a juice glass. “Somebody had a link to this local news story. then quickly faded on seeing me scowl. head turned slightly to monitor the griddle. I just freaked out this morning checking my Facebook messages. “No. It must have been enough to jar his memory. canceling any anticipation for breakfast. Diane went from red to pale in two seconds.” I said.” “Well. Jack appeared to appraise her with new eyes.” Jack exhaled loudly. too fast for me to decipher anything.” “What!” A spatula clattered to the stove. He was found dead in his house last night. “What are you talking about. Grandma now stood between me and Jack. because he pulled out his BlackBerry and thumbed the keyboard. “There’s another guy in Virginia Beach named Matt Johnston. obscuring the name I read.” he said. Still. no biggie anymore. and I accidentally clicked on it. There was that familiar doe in headlights expression as she searched for a viable escape. and as Jack handed me his BlackBerry a sickening feeling spread through my gut. I wanted to come down here. I about shit a brick when I read you had been killed. I just read the article wrong. Tiny words scrolled down the screen of the handheld phone.” He pointed to the screen. Jack?” she asked. otherwise I’d have thought it was you all along.

Why she remained seated intrigued me. Johnston I met last night. and was an active member of his local Baptist church. intoxicating scent of cinnamon and eggs. trying to ignore her wince as I cuffed her arm. The juice really filled me up. I thought back to the Mr. I’m not feeling hungry right now. Fifty-three. He left right after our set. which would have put him at home at go time. Hard to tell for the ravages of tanning. I stood and forcibly helped Diane from her seat.” 72 . Another batch hit the griddle and released the strong. She certainly set mine to full erection.” I suggested. Jack slid the plate closer and tore into the first browned slice. “Actually. He lived alone. Maybe she thought she should keep up appearances and not arouse the suspicion of everybody else in the room. assuming he went home. “Syrup?” Diane shook her head and pushed the plate away. Ordinarily I found it comforting.DEAD BARCHETTA seemed to be backing up to dash through the living room and out the front door. With no obstacles left. I’ll show you Grandma’s garden. one might argue him for the type to complain about television shows using four-letter words. had no immediate family that the reporter could find.” I said. This man I read about on Jack’s smart phone—this Matt Johnston was fifty-three years old and the victim of an alleged break-in at his King’s Grant area home yesterday evening. “Guess my angels were watching over me this weekend. too.” Before I could protest. I handed Jack his BlackBerry and gave the first plate. On the outset. but today it encouraged nausea. more to her than anyone else. offered to me. but he could have been middle-aged. “Maybe you just need some air. to Diane. “Let’s go out the back deck.

Nothing like those bright yellow flowers to make you feel happy to be alive. 73 . “I’ll just show her the sunflowers then. a tall white picket fence lined the back. For good reason.” Plus. Let’s see her try to hurdle that with one leg.” Grandma warned.KATHRYN LIVELY “The greenhouse is locked.

“Don’t get too excited. but I doubted she could do her stunts. She rubbed her arm and assessed her position and possible escapes. “That hurts. I knew the terrain beyond the fence to be rather bumpy. Everything done in that shed is for aiding 74 . “What’s in the greenhouse that we can’t go inside?” she asked.DEAD BARCHETTA Chapter Seven Diane twitched and jerked in my grip. allowing developers to plant towering luxury beach homes that blot out the sun. Not many houses in the neighborhood have them—it’s not uncommon for homeowners close to the Oceanfront area to sell parts of their property. “Why would you want to see my grandmother’s greenhouse?” She smirked.” I had to laugh at that. the desire to make a buck rather than preserve Virginia Beach’s eclectic style. She nodded toward the small shed with the opaque white walls and see-through roof. I pulled her through Grandma’s back sewing room/office and through the door that led into our small backyard. I don’t get to see that. “Maybe I want to see what goes in magic French toast. I didn’t release her until we got to the cobblestone path dividing the dirt and grass. She may be able to run fast on that prosthesis. The evidence of shade veiling Grandma’s modest vegetable garden stood testament to her neighbors’ weak nature.” she whined.

Grandma’s not a dealer. “If anybody’s responsible for how crappy your dad’s life turned out.” Jesus. her eyes pleading and shining with tears.” “I didn’t kill him. “It’s too much of a coincidence that another Matt Johnston dies the day after I almost bought it. though? “What would possess you to confront a total stranger? And don’t give me any crap about him torpedoing your father’s career.KATHRYN LIVELY the elderly and infirm. You don’t know that he had a hand in that.” she said. but doesn’t she worry about getting caught?” She had been caught once before. Our conversation carried easily into the back 75 .” The mouth snapped shut. His connections with the force helped keep her below their radar. One felony at a time. “And don’t tell me you had nothing to do with this. but I spun her right back around to face me. “What gives you the right to pass judgment on something you don’t have the slightest clue about?” “If I’m harboring a criminal.” Her tone changed and she fell silent for a few seconds. “I swear to God.” she shouted with a cracking voice. this girl had to be too stupid to live.” “Oh. and guided her further away from the house. then added. Question is.” I said. “You don’t know anything about my father. “Grandma can take care of herself. a now retired cop…and her friend with benefits. not for doping up middle school kids. or my life. but I didn’t see the point in explaining this to Diane. and he probably didn’t.” I told her. “I suppose that’s good of her. he was still alive when I left him. but only for second. it’s him. That was how she met Jerry. I’d say I’m perfectly in the right. Did I fare any better in the smarts department for sleeping with her.” I said as she opened her mouth. did you think you wouldn’t get caught?” She turned away and folded her arms tight.

” “Will you ever really find it?” I asked.” I said. but he wasn’t the guy.” “They won’t look for you. but it won’t help to have the police nosing around here looking for you. “I don’t know why I thought I’d get satisfaction from it. When you didn’t turn out to be the guy. whispering. Said he’d never even heard of Code Blue. but he also said he didn’t write the fucking letter. because I had some time before my bus left and I just wanted to get some closure from this whole mess.” Diane said.” She shrugged. A show that doesn’t get past half a season is easy to forget. “I think he was lying. “I said my grandmother can handle herself. either. with the way he fidgeted and paled when I told him my story. I left her speech at that and. but I knew if I said anything Diane would continue to vehemently deny doing anything wrong herself.DEAD BARCHETTA alley. I mulled my options: 76 . I swear. and kicked a loose pebble off the path. though. it’s barely a vapor in the memory. Can you believe that?” “Actually. drew her close as she sobbed into my chest.” I added. I hung out at the library and thumbed through a phone book. “I should never have come here. “because there’s no reason to. Tack on twenty years. He was alive when I left his house. Found his address. Yes. I just want to go home. yes. What more could I do. “He said he felt bad about Dad.” she said. or me. but hold her as she quaked—my own body vibrated with her misery. like the too stupid to live sap that I am. “It’s not just me. I went to see Matt Johnston yesterday. Anybody strolling toward the beach or passing by on a bike probably heard us. either.” Fingers curled into fists and rubbed against my chest. I imagined anybody accused of indirectly causing a washed-up actor’s suicide might act uncomfortable. “Your closure?” Diane snorted.

The figure moved closer and I could now clearly see Grandma waving us toward her. 77 . “Assuming you’re telling the truth about all this…” I began.” I glanced back at the screen door and saw a silhouette filled most of the metal weave. I pulled Diane with me back to the house. Having seen Grandma’s discomfort around uniforms. then my inability to turn her in two nights ago indirectly led to a man’s death.” I said. but the hand gesture quickened. but I don’t think I’d feel right helping you skip town if there was a chance you knew something about this guy’s death.KATHRYN LIVELY calling the police might bring an officer not acquainted with Jerry. “I really can’t make you stay here.” “Fine. I could only imagine how one slip of the tongue could lead to a featured spot on the six o’clock news. “What?” I called. “I don’t think I’d remember anything odd.” I muttered. insistent.” she said. and endless questions about my involvement with Diane and the other Matt Johnston. the guilt weighed on my mind. “I am. “God. I’ll give you that.” she said. Sure. aside from the fact that I wasn’t there when it happened?” “Did you see anything. Gonzo granny and guitarist grandson grabbed for growing grass.” “What could I possibly know. with the two of us marched past her petunia-lined walkway into squad cars. hear anything weird?” “This whole weekend has been strange. but if Diane lied about killing him. I was blameless in that death. appeared more urgent. Either way. huffing out a noisy breath. “Assuming it’s true. and looked at Diane. I held up a finger and the mouth clamped shut.

but I’ve got five ounces bagged that can’t stay in this house if we have company coming. Only then did I realize I had squeezed Diane’s arms to the point of leaving permanent indentations. Why would they think to come here anyway?” Of course. not from shock but pain as a petite foot struck my shin. Her normally rosy color had paled to porcelain. 78 . no way in hell would he leave if he knew he had the opportunity to secret away her weed until the coast cleared. “Why do they want me? I don’t have anything to do with this.” she said. or at least possessed enough cognizance this early in the morning to discern my grandmother’s worry. “He was keeping tabs on that suspicious death because he thought it was you at first.” popped in a voice behind us. showing her true age and perhaps adding ten more years. “I just got off the phone with Jerry. “Right here. I let go and she rubbed the sore spot. doe-eyed and praying for free samples. but she just returned serve with wide-eyed silence. and a friend of his at the 3rd Precinct tipped him off that two detectives are on their way here to talk to you!” “Me?” I jumped in place.DEAD BARCHETTA Deep worry lines creased Grandma’s brow. If he knew about the call. The rest are just pots of dirt. then again Grandma spaced out her planting schedule so the place didn’t look like a Rastafarian nursery. She shifted to look past me into the backyard. “Jack still here?” I already knew the answer. and I sensed her next concern before she voiced it. Last thing she needed was a line of bleached surfer heads poking their noses over the back fence. “Just the one plant sprouted. “What’s in the greenhouse now?” I asked.” Good news. I fixed a stare on Diane the entire time I talked.” she squealed. Speak of the devil. glaring at me. “I don’t know.

I added. 79 . if they do show up here. the idea is to make sure the cops. Grandma doesn’t need any more attention than she gets from friends and well-wishers on a given day.” “I got my cell on. Hamlet’s soliloquies weren’t so long. no earlier. are we?” “No. then poked her head around the corner. every bud and stem will be accounted for. “We’re not staying for the cops. “Swear to Ged.” When Jack trotted out with a stripped Hellman’s jar tucked in his arm like a football. Diane and I’ll be at the studio. “I ever let you down before?” I left that hanging.” Grandma called from the kitchen.” I glared at the contents through the glass.” To Jack: “You just go.” He smiled.KATHRYN LIVELY Diane appeared to have everything she arrived with. either. “Cops or no. so I nudged her back down the hall to the front of the house.” I told Grandma. “What are we doing?” Diane asked. or just let her hospice friends smoke it outright. Jack held up his free fingers in a Boy Scout salute. She nodded. Outgoing greens she saved in cleanedout mayonnaise jars until she decided whether to cook the weed into brownies or canna-butter. I promised a batch of brownies to hospice. don’t linger. “Just be back around six. Grandma. either. He’d been ejected from our troop years ago for attaching Bobby Wannamaker’s Pinewood Derby car to a bottle rocket to see if it could fly. “Give Jack the jar.” He won’t take the Lord’s name in vain. “And she doesn’t need a quality control panel. and don’t get caught getting there.

that sort of thing. My girlfriends and I like to hit the clubs in the City. “I’m not much of a Deadhead. She’d been quiet on the ride to the Town Center area. then shrugged. anyway. Peaches. Finally she relaxed her stance and loped a few steps closer to where I sat strumming the acoustic I kept here for lessons. Stephen’ by the Dead. We play it a lot in our sets.” she said. Of course. grunted response every time I initiated conversation. Without proof. mostly.” “It’s nice.” “What do you like?” “Dance. electronica. fan favorite. my heart went out to her and I couldn’t decide how to approach her physically. Instead. “What’s that you’re playing?” “‘St. Any other day I might have found the pose charming—an endearing portrait of a ragged pixie in need of a hug. arms folded and legs crossed at the ankles. what more could I expect? She no doubt still believed I held her responsible for the other Matt Johnston’s death. offering little more than a bored.” She executed a long-legged right turn toward a wall covered in posters. though. Lady Gaga. despite assurances that she’d convinced me otherwise.DEAD BARCHETTA Chapter Eight “Hungry? There’s a snack machine in the break room.” Diane leaned against the doorway of my studio. I had no right to accuse her. “Something about a hard driving 80 . I’m afraid. and after an hour of staring at each other in the studio it appeared she might be off the hook anyway.

” I could relate. Laila Cook touched her ruby-tipped fingertips to her saucer-lensed sunglasses and tore them dramatically from her face. but we did expect company. Either the girl or the situation did this to me. I didn’t used to think like a psychedelic Hallmark commercial before. share a bit of ourselves. Frank Zappa and anybody else who might possess divine clout. signaling new blood. Buddha. in turn. Mrs. I couldn’t even lift my arms to reciprocate. or better yet ease her away. after all. we have the ability to share it and. Tiny blotches of mascara spotted the skin underneath her lower lids. Even though it’s not our music in the sense that we authored it. Underneath them. “Matt. The bell attached to the top doorjamb pealed. I put a finger to my lips and motioned for her to stay put. I left St. it’s a safe feeling. Watching as many as a hundred people swaying in time to the music we play evokes a sense of community I don’t get anywhere else. She had me pinned that hard. Stephen.KATHRYN LIVELY beat. unsung and holding the bucket hanging clear to Hell as the notes faded into silence. Diane whirled around from the posters. the eyes that normally appraised me with non-musical interest looked puffy and raw. Where were the fucking cops to beat the masculinity back into me? Speak of the blue devils. Normally I’d lock the place during off-hours. Jesus. Taking a deep breath and silently invoking St. this early in the day. a dance floor crowded with people…I don’t know. 81 . I stepped out into the main foyer to face my fate… …which happened to favor red stilettos. pale and wide-eyed. The stench of perfume assailed my senses and left me dizzy. Stephen at the well. Any more time spent with one or both might completely pussify my soul. thank God!” She charged and drew me into a tight hug.

thank God you’re all right!” She lunged for another hug but I stood to put some distance between us. “I thought you were dead. Her face pressed against my shoulder.” she said. Cook doesn’t know my grandmother’s first name.” She carried on. toned the exact shade of whatever foundation she’d spackled over her skin. Horny as I get at times. I know it’s silly to overreact like this. I’m unlisted. and Mrs. I’m flattered. I’m fine. even I perceive the ludicrousness of bringing a woman old enough to be my mother to my attic bedroom.” she said. I tried not to check for smudges when she did finally release me. The reporter would have called me Lerxst Johnston. Cook stood about an inch higher. Rest assured you would have been refunded for any lessons paid in advance. “Well. that was your first clue right there. In heels Mrs. “…And I had no way to know for sure. “…but when I saw your car parked here in the lot I had to see if you were okay. sniffling. watching for strobe lights. and wriggled one arm free to pry her away. “I’m sorry. Jack wasn’t crying when he came to the house with the news. “Yes. “No. no doubt leaving a nice Tammy Faye Bakker-style imprint for all the makeup she wore. I kept my gaze fixed on the front glass door. of course. since I don’t know where you live…” For good reason. not hearing. and the proximity allowed me an in-depth look at her face.” “You shouldn’t joke about such things. Mrs. All I heard was a man named Matt Johnston had been found dead in his home—” “Well. you can plainly see it wasn’t me.” she scolded. Cook. If I wanted to.” I said.DEAD BARCHETTA “When I heard on the radio that you had been murdered…my God. You and my accountant are the only people who don’t.” 82 . Oh.” I guided her to the waiting room sofa. Really. “He actually looked disappointed.

How much of the conversation she’d heard. he cared not for physical aesthetics—he liked his Redskins tshirts and prickly stubble just fine. “Laila.” A clutch purse snapped shut and narrow heels clicked and scraped on the floor as Mrs.” He nodded curtly.” Before I could guide her to move toward the door.” she said. this time signaling an irate Mr. “Matt. This was as close to an endearment as I could ever expect from him. You can stop your blubbering and get back in the car.” he announced without a hint of emotion or inflection. Cook must have felt so warm inside to be addressed that way. the man’s alive. I couldn’t tell. That he didn’t appear bothered to see evidence of his wife’s sobbing affection smeared on my shirt told me that unlike the other Matt Johnston. pressing her hands to her ostensibly wounded heart. I’m coming. “Really. honey. Lieutenant Commander Anthony Cook. Oh. and therefore having to force out an explanation for it. Chuck Norris checks under his bed every night for this guy. Cook. but she clearly 83 . Each wrinkle. Cook stood. Cook glanced at me and I bit my lip to keep from smiling. Lt. how Mrs. I’ll see you Monday for—oh!” I followed her gaze behind me to discover Diane peering tentatively from the hall. Unlike his wife. the bell pealed again. Cook. “All right.KATHRYN LIVELY “I can’t believe you’re joking about this. “Lerxst.” Just waiting on possible foes right now. every scar on his skin stood out like a badge of courage. About half a head shorter than his wife. carried probably one percent body fat and wore a light brown crew cut so flat a carpenter’s level could balance on it. Talk about a badass. “Do you have any idea what your friends must think. Mrs. I’m okay. I might live to see the end of this day. retired. hearing this on the news and not realizing you aren’t the one dead?” “All my friends checked in this morning.

Diane looked ready to turn tail and run. as if to scold our youthful shenanigans. crooking a thumb back toward my studio.” Before I could volunteer to help retrieve it. Cook was already at her side with an arm snaked around Diane’s shoulder. “So you’re a Johnston.” I lied gesturing toward Mrs.DEAD BARCHETTA had the look of somebody who’d walked into an awkward situation.” I said. Why. I watched Mrs.” Diane said.” Why in the hell did this man care? “Diane’s mom is my mom’s sister. Didn’t matter if Mrs. Mrs.” “Cousin?” The lieutenant arched an eyebrow. who knows? What did I have to account to the Cooks? “I’m sorry to interrupt. Cook escort a nervous Diane deeper into the lobby. Diane. “Isn’t it just awful. anyway. so I tried to ease myself between them. “I lost my change in the vending machine…back here. however. Why would a lovely young woman hang out with me on a day when the studio is typically closed? Surely not a student here for a lesson—musical. “She’s down from Philly for the weekend. Cook then her husband. “I don’t believe you’ve met my cousin. Mrs. what happened?” she asked. The lieutenant. just nodded and fixed a frown on the two of us. Cook enjoyed it. I wouldn’t expect either of the Cooks to catch the lie. We were just about to leave when you two arrived. We were going to head over to Norfolk for the day when I remembered I’d left my wallet here. too?” “Uh. Cook may only appear flighty. Mom had no siblings. but under those layers of Lancome tightened the face of a savvy lady. frowning at Diane. and as I volunteered no family history to clients. 84 . no. a critical eye fixed on Diane. Which made me feel all the more uncomfortable.

” “Why are you talking to Jack about my personal life?” Furthermore. Luckily. and I just remembered. I 85 . He simply said “Good. why would Jack talk to her about it? She stepped closer—sweet perfume wafted around us and stung my nostrils.” I said proudly.” and left it at that. “You have two minutes. born and raised. I caught sight of Mrs. had no desire to socialize further. managed to extricate herself from the older woman’s blood-red talons and disappeared around the corner. I wanted to sneeze but held back. my purse is in the studio. Christ.” And he was out the door and heading to the far left down the sidewalk lining the lot.KATHRYN LIVELY “I see. I could find nothing on her that hadn’t been colored to appear natural. “She’s not your cousin from Philly. or likely enhanced by something that came out of a syringe. On the playground is where she spent most of her days. tanned legs. straight and taut and balanced perfectly on her heels.” he said.” she chided. and by some act of the Almighty I managed to extend the ruse a tad.” he said wearily.” Diane let out a nervous laugh and. I’ll be in the car. Cook. Cook’s toned. I wanted to sigh heavily at her obvious inability to keep an awkward scene from becoming more so. that TV show I could remember. “She’s from West Philadelphia. Cook blocked my view of his exit. So much for subtlety. “Yeah. gaze shifting from me to the Cooks. thankfully.” Diane said. Looking away. stretched to look smooth. “I really should go get it so we don’t have to come back here. Where in Philly are you?” Diane looked ready to die from fright. “Laila. Lt. “I’ve talked to Jack. Cook had no affinity for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Mrs. draping her arms over my shoulders the second he turned away. it seemed as though Lt. “I used to live in Drexel Hill myself. He said your parents were only children.

I could only hope for a quick death.” I said.” I looked behind me. but given the events of the past two days I imagine it wouldn’t take too much to make that happen. if she was still in the building. I beg to differ. “I don’t know exactly what you’re getting at here…” She huffed. “Well. Cook—” I also like oxygen and keeping my limbs out of traction. I didn’t know what Diane was doing or. Cook could barge back in here and break it clean. Mrs. Cook on my roster.” she corrected.” Long nails tangled and tossed the long strands of hair hanging down my back. “Why do you always call me Mrs. Cook strode half 86 . Cook? You don’t address your other pupils that way. “Mrs. “Don’t you like me…Lerxst?” My nickname rolled off a tongue now tracing full red lips that appeared almost cartoon-like close to my face.DEAD BARCHETTA supposed my earlier assessments about her aging gracefully were false. interspecies soiree? Why these thoughts come to me in moments of discomfort I’ll never know. Matt.” “You’re the only Mrs. Something about the way she looked at our unwelcome guests gave me the feeling she’d been spooked. Each touch prickled the skin on the back of my neck. and I don’t even smoke Grandma’s stash. Any minute now Lt.” Just my luck. Ever watch one of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he’s in drag and tricking Elmer Fudd into some kind of homoerotic. worse yet. pursing her lips into a puffy circle. either you’re dimmer than I thought or I’m not trying hard enough. but this position prevented me from checking out any activity in the back. honey. as I gently extracted myself from her loose hold. “Laila.” “Oh. Cook. “I do like you. “I like you. I managed to stand a good arm’s length clear of her when Lt.

She hung from the high rod in my doorless coat cubby. The first step toward the studios remained my only one as the sight of the Cooks’ convertible pulling out of the lot coincided with the arrival of a white sedan crowned with red and blue strobes.” she called after him and adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder. Her face had turned a deep red and already her eyes bulged and stared out. A quick glance into my own space yielded the same results…only because Diane herself exhibited no such signals. I’ll see you Monday. glazed. since I didn’t need to alert the suspicions of either officer now exiting the car to come inside. I sensed a thorough examination of my family tree forthcoming. “Fine. for God’s sake? Instinct took over. How quickly had she accomplished this between now and when the Cooks left? Why. enough ajar without setting off the bell. and the bathroom revealed no signs of life. Perfect timing. and wondered how quickly Jack could master classical guitar to take some of my workload going forward. The thought to call home flew quickly out of my mind.” he barked. come on. I didn’t see her immediately—the open doors to Jack’s pod. As a precaution. “Diane?” I called back and received silence. I fumbled a few seconds with the belt 87 . “Laila. “Matt. and thinking the cops wouldn’t know to look for Diane. the lounge. past me to an unknown spot. I did slip back into my studio to let her know to stay put. and I ran to her with the hope I could try to revive her.KATHRYN LIVELY the length of the storefront window and leaned into the door. a belt tightened around her throat and her prosthetic leg detached from her body and standing straight as you please a few inches away on the floor. and bolted away.” The spark in her eyes as she left told me she wasn’t through with me yet. Shit.

“Mr. and took a deep breath before venturing to meet my new guests. Showtime.” I said. Swear to Ged.DEAD BARCHETTA before finally grasping the rod and pulling it. and closed it quietly behind me as I slipped into the hall. but rather a fancy cast. The lock barely snicked shut but I swore the sound pounded in my ears. My gaze panned the length of her lifeless body to see two shins. and it seemed underneath that Diane wore a nylon knee-length stocking to presumably prevent chafing. depressed the inside lock on the studio door. For two. however Diane managed this. off the cubby and down to the floor. The prosthetic had her right sock and shoe. shocking my heart and my limbs into action. she must really have forced the noose to break her neck because I could not bring up a pulse or encourage a breath after trying CPR. I turned to look at the fake leg. That’s when I noticed two things: one. 88 . Johnston?” called a deep voice. I heard the front door bell sound and swallowed back the vomit I longed to retch. and Diane. Why would Diane lie about missing part of her leg. though? Why wear this thing? I didn’t get to ponder the questions long. both of Diane’s legs were intact. trying to forget that only seconds earlier I’d cradled a dead woman in my arms. this wasn’t a prosthetic in the typical sense. Without thinking I leapt from the floor. So. two feet and five toes of the secret leg exposed. “One second.

KATHRYN LIVELY

Chapter Nine
For the benefit of anybody who might wonder what it’s like, a casual police interrogation pretty much plays out as it does on Law and Order. Just like on the show, two very tall men in dark suits—one lean, stubbled, black hair cut in near Roman style, the other carrying a wider yet solid girth, older and paler, balding gray—muddled about the lobby, taking in every square inch. The younger of the duo extended a hand, not to shake but to present a business card. Raised blue letters in a block font told me the detective’s name was Roland P. Greene. Even the name sounded like something from a television drama. “My partner, Sergeant Hogan, and I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind,” he said. Naturally, the request sounded coached in a tone that implied the detective could care less if I did mind. I gestured to the sofas and we sat facing each other. Only Sergeant Hogan remained standing, drifting along one wall to study the framed photographs lined just within his direct line of vision. Knees spread and torso leaning forward, Detective Greene braced himself on his elbows and twined his fingers together in mid-air. “I hear you’re called Lerxst,” he began. “Rush fan?” “I’m not much into talk radio,” I said. Thank Ged he smiled at that. “Yes,” I added after a beat. “They’re why I took up the guitar.” “I haven’t seen them live in…” he scrunched his face, remembering, “damn, about fifteen years. Saw them at

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Hampton Coliseum. I remember it was one hell of a show.” “I’m sure it was.” If it happened, which it didn’t. I wondered now if these guys did suspect me of wrongdoing, considering this good cop bullshit act was obviously meant to comfort me. If I didn’t think the detective wouldn’t haul me in for being a jackass I might have pointed out that the tour fifteen years ago—for the Counterparts album, for those keeping score—didn’t come to Hampton because it was canceled, and Grandma wasn’t about to let Chad and me take a bus to Philly so we could see them at the Spectrum, much drive take us their herself. Pissed me off so much, I didn’t talk to anybody for two weeks solid after that. Maybe I should trade in my axe for a badge. They’d probably make me cut my hair, though. “You didn’t go?” “Too young,” I lied. “Couldn’t get permission.” Greene relaxed his posture and leaned back. “But you’ve seen them since, right?” “Oh, sure. A few times.” Try twenty-seven shows over three different tours. Ate nothing but baloney and Spaghetti-O’s one year to afford tickets and gas. Totally worth the gout I suffered. “Nice little business here, too. You own, or partner?” “I have two business partners, we pretty much split the profits and expenses equally. I don’t think you’re here to inquire about lessons.” The sergeant shot me a look. Only then did I notice him chewing gum. Jack’s one pet peeve during practice— he said it distracted his students from keeping in rhythm. I don’t think this guy would oblige as easily to get rid of his. Detective Greene smiled and nodded. “I think you knew that the second we walked through the door, Matt. Lerxst. Can I call you that?” You already have. “Sure.”

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“Are you aware another man named Matt Johnston was found dead in his home recently?” And that the girl who might have done it had hung herself in my studio like an overcoat? I crossed my legs tight and sulked into the sofa. “I saw news about it online, but I don’t know the details. I wasn’t there, for Christ’s sake.” “You sure about that?” Hogan speaks! Gruff and northern-accented, his voice sounded more appropriate barking at cars blocking the intersection in downtown. His question pounding in my ears, I got the impression the guy was ready to lock me away. A smart ass remark no doubt might result in a slap upside the head by one of those meaty hands. I swallowed back my defiant sarcasm and answered, “I’m positive.” “So where were you, then, last night?” This from Greene. “I was home,” I said, truthfully, “for a while. I came home around six, ate dinner and took a nap, then I headed over to Bad Ass Coffeehouse for an impromptu open mic.” Technically my meeting Diane at the Chinatown bus depot qualified as an early morning activity, and unless they asked me what I was doing then I had no intention of sharing. If they had come looking for Diane, and maybe knew about her from Grandma—assuming they went by the house first—surely they’d want to know where she was now. I wasn’t about to make introductions, either. Out came the hand-sized notebook and pen. Greene dutifully took notes. “Somebody can corroborate this?” he asked. “Your grandmother?” “She wasn’t home at the time. She was on her way back from Branson. You may want to start with the baristas who worked there last night who hosted the show.” “I’m sure we can get a list. Anybody else?”

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I shrugged. This really didn’t look good for me if they had something. Why would they be here if they didn’t? “Talk to Jack. That’s Jack Kline, he works with me here, and he knew some of the people in the audience.” I don’t know why my palms dampened—with more than a dozen witnesses watching me play guitar at the coffee shop, surely that alibi held water. Then I realized that if the Mr. Johnston I’d met and the late Matt Johnston were one and the same, a good few hours separated his departure from open mic night to my finding Diane. That gap in time I couldn’t explain away so easily. Sure, I could let them in the back and give them the grand, macabre tour, but how to explain a dead girl? My stomach hurt. More pen scratching. Greene had the top of the pad tipped upward so I couldn’t see what he wrote. Probably drawing a stick figure with long, blond hair in striped pajamas. “Are you aware,” he said, less genial now, “that a long strand of blond hair was found near the body, along with a postcard advertising your band?” His tone made the revelation sound more sinister than it could have been. “Jack and I distribute postcards all over the beach,” I said. “You go to Bad Ass or the Jewish Mother or Abbey Road at the beach, and they have like five hundred apiece. I don’t keep track of who takes them.” “And the hair?” “He went out for a knish and brought home a dish. How the hell should I know?” The sergeant laughed at that one, then quickly turned to stone again. If I didn’t think my ass was grass I’d have followed up with something even funnier. “Am I going to need a lawyer here?” I asked. A coroner definitely, I realized as I thought of Diane

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slumped in the back room. “I’ll take a lie detector test if I need to. I can assure you I wasn’t anywhere near that man’s house. I never met him, and I don’t even go into King’s Grant.” Greene’s eyebrow shot upward. “How did you know he lived in King’s Grant?” “It was mentioned in the article. Look it up.” I watched Greene’s slow burn. It upset him, no doubt, to know he hadn’t caught me in a lie. “Matt…Lerxst, we only want to cover every angle possible in this case. A man is murdered in our district, and it’s our job to make sure we solve it.” “I hope you do,” I said. Meant it, too. I live in this town. If there’s a killer out there with an aversion to men bearing my name, I don’t need him running free. Of course, if said killer had hung in my coat closet I supposed I could relax. “You okay, Lerxst?” “Hm?” That’s when I noticed how quickly my knee bounced. Nervous and anxious, as though ready to shoot off the couch, through the ceiling, and into space. Who could blame me at this point? “You got somewhere to be?” Hogan asked, drawing closer, regarding me with intimidating cop seriousness. “Or maybe you have a pupil coming in soon?” “No, not at all,” I said. “I don’t have anybody scheduled today.” “Really?” Greene looked surprised. Probably an act, I’m sure he had the next question already in mind. “Why are you here on your day off, then?” “It’s quiet here. Sometimes I like to come and practice undisturbed.” Not far from the truth, either. The studio served as rehearsal hall for Dead Barchetta before gigs. “Those people leaving the parking lot,” Hogan said. “They didn’t come for a lesson?”

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I nodded. and a Lifeson signature Gibson ES-355. Mrs. Cook—I teach her classical guitar— thought I had been killed and came to see otherwise. who now drifted slowly toward the receptionist desk. He glanced at Hogan.” Don’t ask how many SpaghettiO’s it took to save up for that last one. I swallowed. “Depends. like you did. “You have your guitar with you now?” My friend Diane is keeping an eye on it. yes. What about you. I usually bring two or three if the event is pretty big. a Les Paul standard. I’m assuming. “What you play?” I shrugged. “Getting set for a gig? With the practicing?” “We’re doing a gig with some other tribute bands soon. dick. “Nice. Instead I offered a smile and a murmur of approval which he seemed to accept as an invitation to “get together sometime and jam. We’re opening for a Zeppelin cover band. “I have a Paul Stanley Iceman myself. “The NorVa. He only let out a noncommittal grunt and resumed spying objects on the desk as much as he could without breaching protocol.” “They came here? They didn’t call your house?” “I didn’t ask. They must have seen my car and knew to come.” 94 .” I bit my lip to refrain from asking if he had the matching claw-tipped boots and assless pants to go with it. then again so is Neil Peart to some extent. “Sounds like a show I wouldn’t mind seeing. and if we’re headlining.DEAD BARCHETTA “Not today. Where at?” It’s on that postcard you found. Greene turned back to me. I have a standard Strat. Bill?” Bill looked more like a Frank Sinatra kind of fellow.” Greene crossed an ankle over one knee.” Greene whistled.” “I see.” “Nice.” He nodded.

” I said. I left with nothing but Diane and my wallet. and it’s not because they’re all holding it through the 22-minute dream version of “La Villa Strangiato. “We weren’t in any hurry.” What? You planning to hire me? I didn’t see any other reason to do so. Why rush to find more clues if they believed they had the guy right here? Hell with motive. Shit.” Greene took the hint and crooked his neck for his partner to come along. I imagine he wanted to add.” Then Greene caught my heart in my throat. is all. “I’ll pass for now. considering they were on the clock. we have a postcard and a strand of hair to hang me. In my haste to get out of the house. Not until I felt assured they were miles from earshot did I exhale and backtrack on wobbling legs to the studio door. too. “Actually. For one. Why either would be interested in an impromptu concert baffled me. but I just nodded and stood at the great window. why not. “You got the Lifeson here now?” I did not. I needed to do something about Diane. Greene reached for the door and held it as Hogan lumbered into the bright afternoon. This day has been rather unsettling. and I should probably go home.” he said. Like a confession.” That unsettled me. watching as they lingered a moment in their sedan before finally rolling out onto Virginia Beach Boulevard. Hang. I haven’t spent much time with my grandmother since she got back from her trip. 95 . I’d have to enter the chamber of death to get the acoustic. too.” “Too bad. Phfft. standing. Go to any show and there’s never a line at the ladies’ room.KATHRYN LIVELY Hell. Why do you ask?” “I’d like to hear you play. Right. and it wouldn’t surprise me to have Greene ask for a tour while I was up. I thought. Everybody knows how the chicks dig Rush. “You have my card if you think of anything else you want to tell us. Bring groupies. “No.

legs stretched in front of me. lonely like a symbol of war one might see in a magazine ad. he had been prepared. I hadn’t been this close to a body before—at least then. then quickly tucked it back into my jeans. Or had a slip of paper sticking out near the calf. did she kill herself to avoid the inevitable arrest? Why frame me? What in hell had I done to her? Was the sex that bad? I’d feel doubly insulted if so.DEAD BARCHETTA Unlocking it and peering inside. Diane remained lifeless on the floor. and the only one who could answer them lay crumpled about fifty feet in front of me. The thought of calling 911 to report a suicide did cross my mind. with unmoving eyes and parted lips revealing the tip of her tongue poking from slightly crooked teeth. So many questions haloed my head. I reached for the blue. I brought out my phone. Whom could I call about this? Grandma would freak out. Diane clearly opted not to grant me that favor. Already the stench of death filled the space between us and it about knocked me backward. That’s what it looked like. Outside of my grandfather’s funeral. and once I steeled up the courage to move closer I found that the white square— really her driver’s license—was embedded between the hard plastic and the “skin” layer. Closer inspection 96 . and apparently somebody wanted him to think that. molded plastic chair I used for lessons and slumped down. my heart sank to see nothing had changed. but assuming the coroner could mark the time of death before the men in black arrived. where would that leave me? No doubt Greene suspected I had something to do with the other Matt Johnston dying. Only few soldiers I knew wore pink Chuck Taylor’s and lacy socks. Her artificial leg continued to stand at attention. If Diane had been that somebody. or else tell Jerry. though a bit paler.

but as I’d clearly tainted this evidence that was all moot anyway.KATHRYN LIVELY revealed the heel and sole of the foot felt solid and thick. Well. So the fake leg served as a brace of some sort. I answered before the first flourish of drums. I certainly couldn’t leave her here. Diane’s home as noted from the license. as though Diane wore the prosthetic as a platform. “Are they gone?” she asked. I found a house key and seventy bucks in cash. I couldn’t move the body—that would definitely arouse suspicion. “They said they might drop by. smaller. Can’t imagine a mugger would go for the ol’ wooden leg if he knew you had one filled with treasure. New Jersey. I checked the leg for other possible hiding places and. much less go on with the rest of the day as though nothing significant happened. Well. but not the other Matt’s. a while ago. might notice her absence and place a missing person report. now noticing how the covered leg appeared shriveled. that might have confirmed my innocence. How’s everything over there. Not only that. Clever. appropriately. All I knew for certain was that Diane—her last name being. Diane hadn’t really hidden much booty. Havoc and not Peterson—had targeted me all along. either. The worry in her voice cut to the bone. Eventually somebody in Hoboken. Grandma’s ringtone.” “Yeah. but the skin layer curled just enough over the rim to conceal a tiny latch at the top. I looked back at her body and stared at her feet. I depressed and pushed it around with my thumb for a few seconds before a panel by the heel popped open in the sock to reveal a secret compartment. weighed the limb in my hands as I thought of my next move. The options continued to crowd my mind when the opening riff of The Spirit of Radio sounded from my pants. finding none. plus a sheet of paper I unfolded to reveal a Google Map printout of my address.” 97 .

give her our best regards.” “Thanks. He called and is on the way here. anyway. I realized. “Actually. so I suppose we won’t have any visitors. “Well. away from the smell.DEAD BARCHETTA “We’re fine. I’ll save you some chicken salad. spread thickly on pumpernickel bread. I wondered if I’d ever taste it again. Nobody’s been by to talk to us since. Grandma. dear. I really didn’t need to get Jack involved any more than he was. Diane needs to catch her bus back home. I couldn’t even savor the memory of my last such sandwich for the stink clouding my senses now. Love you. barely there mayo with tarragon and mixed-in celery bits.” They wouldn’t have visitors for some time. I left the studio for cleaner air.” Now I heard disappointment. Her boyfriend.” And here I felt ready to lose breakfast.” I rang off and crawled backwards to the chair. Even the stench of spoiled milk and what had to be feral cat puke proved a preferable assault to my senses. “I’ll call Jack to return your inventory before he smokes it.” Heh. “Oh. trying to get some gossip. and though Grandma’s the sort to kill or die for me I doubted hiding a dead stranger fell anywhere in that spectrum. I leaned against the Dumpster. He’s on his cell now. My grandmother makes the best damn chicken salad on the planet—all breast meat. being a savvy problem solver even in his 98 . Jerry got here not long after you left.” “No need. What about you? Are you and Diane coming back? I thought I’d make lunch. assuming Grandma could bring me food in prison. I’m just going to take her to the station and make sure she gets home safely. Diane couldn’t stay a secret. propping up the locked back door with an empty aluminum can. head bent to control the dry heaves. The way my thoughts muddled.

the idea posed three small issues. and the other Matt Johnston. regardless of her plans for me or anyone else in town. though. **** I keep a duffel bag in my office with an extra change of clothes—good to have when a gig gets too hot and sticky and there are plans to party afterward. with that door cracked. Perhaps it might reveal more secrets to come. the artificial leg. and my intention to make the connection between her. Two. I could probably contort Diane enough to make her fit. all of downtown would soon inhale something unpleasant. Still. and found one of Jack’s trap cases. the mere act of stuffing a human being into a trap case stood only to solidify my complicity in her death in another person’s eyes. The longer I stood here. I checked the studio for containers. after a moment’s thought. If I removed the inner partitions that separated the cymbals from the snares. which he used to transport his drums to gigs. However. me. I threw in Diane’s stuff along with anything else I thought might 99 . I’d have to touch a dead body to accomplish that. One. I grabbed a pad and pen from the bookcase in the studio and scribbled a quick note swearing my disassociation with Diane’s suicide. one of us had to leave. in life or death. Three. she didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. Back inside. and I wanted it more.KATHRYN LIVELY retirement. would sniff out the truth soon enough and force me to own up to some level of involvement. Who knew? It had a secret compartment. I left the note near her face where I hoped whoever discovered her first would find it. Then I collected the driver’s license and money and.

The distance from Diane’s body had dissipated the nausea and renewed my hunger. It used to embarrass me when I’d bring friends home to be served cookies with milk in such girly glasses. and a Chinese restaurant. much less if I’d get there before I had to think of a place to sleep. Jack no doubt eyed the remaining scoop of tarragon-y goodness. and I’d started off in the opposite direction on Virginia Beach Boulevard toward Norfolk. as it stuck to the sides of the glass bowl she used. As it stood now I didn’t even know where the Norfolk station was. that Grandma had used since I was little. Where I thought to go didn’t come quickly. I passed the Arby’s. Next to 100 .DEAD BARCHETTA prove useful—spare change from junk drawers. Virginia Beach’s Greyhound station is closer to the Oceanfront— and the house—than the studio. ignoring the larger than life roast beef sandwich tempting me from a window banner. my stomach started growling. wondering when to expect me. chowing down on homemade chicken salad and potato chips. bags of snacks. bought gradually from the Big Star along with other pieces of serving ware in the same pattern. walking in the hot sun and wondering if I’d ever see home again outside pictures sent to a prison cell. I figured if the cops thought to look for me again the home station would be the first stop. Now. meant for me. By the time I passed the third chain burger joint. Ice cold lemonade served in those tall glasses with the painted-on daisies with chipped white petals. I pictured Grandma and Jerry and Jack back home. a pocket knife—and exited through the back again. I welcomed nothing more than to tip one of those glasses to my lips. When in fuck did I turn into such a fatalist? The next block yielded a string of attached stores including a nail salon—practically a requisite for any strip mall—a comic book shop with windows plastered in colorful Marvel motifs. leaving the car in the lot.

as the English half of the poster board on the office window advertised in black marker chicken scratch. to see more than one bus going to Chinatown from Virginia Beach. I saw I had exactly two hours and thirty minutes to decide if my ass should be on that bus. I didn’t even realize all the Chinatown buses in the vicinity were connected as indicated by Tom’s inference. his other hand hefting a six pack of cola. I trade shifts with my brother Huang. If one broke down in the middle of Delmarva with me on it. “Still deciding. And. “I drive this bus tonight. Weird. “Making a delivery?” He laughed. That would put a person in the City pretty late. beads of dew spotted the cursive lettering and white ribbon designs. and I bet the liquid inside tasted oh so chilly. they seemed to outnumber the nail salons. I could have cared less who needed Tom Sawyer in New York and whether or not Huang complied with the shift change without grousing. it made for cheap transportation in a pinch. I turned around to find my old friend from Wok and Roll grinning straight rows of teeth. Tom Sawyer! Where you going?” The broad slap of my back about scared the piss out of me. As Diane attested.” I nodded. but that seemed the least of my concerns right now. Through the glass I noted other people toting luggage and lounging on retro molded plastic seats.” “Cool. Yet. I glanced at the cans. They need me in city earlier. I thought.KATHRYN LIVELY Lin’s Happy China No. this particular bus left town in the afternoon rather than midnight. advertising another New York bus. 2 was another storefront signed in foreign characters. 101 . “Hey.” I said. “You need a lift?” He waggled his eyebrows. Checking the departure time. and hoped I didn’t look too conspicuous. it would leave me in a better position than I was now. considering the number of takeout places within a ten mile radius of the studio.

You up front with me.DEAD BARCHETTA “Is there a seat left?” A cross between a laugh and a dismissing pshaw issued from his lips. “Sure. I make you seat.” “Nice. please.” I pulled two of Diane’s twenties from my pocket and dismissed the dread of having to sing Working Man for seven straight hours in harmony with a man who hadn’t yet mastered English. “One way. craving a plate of chicken and rice. Rush man. I followed him inside.” 102 .

half-listening to Han yammer on about his own musical ambitions and how I should leave Dead Barchetta to back the band he wanted to form. Yeah. I dozed on and off for most of the ride.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Ten Riding up front with Han Chen—aka Tom Sawyer. Lyrics were never my forte. the lack of cars competing for asphalt well makes up for the boring ride. I think I shall never see. In the time it might have taken me to get to the Delaware border during a day trip. and seeing as how Rush has never toured Japan or China there were those plums to pick. too. because everybody knows how they eat up any and all westernized music and styles. get a rest area named for me. By the time he pulled the bus in for gas he’d planned our first tour and at least seven appearances on Hong Kong variety game shows that likely featured contestants 103 . that’s my ambition. a Starbuck’s kiosk selling fat-free. the Happy Tiger Express had burrowed deep into New Jersey. My new friend plowed up State Road 13 as though running for pole qualifying at Daytona. We’d go to Asia and tour and make a killing. This is why I’m in a cover band. Get famous. stopping briefly to fill up at a turnpike stop named for Joyce Kilmer. “No after Han Solo!” he stressed immediately on the formal introduction—renewed my appreciation for night driving. Though the Eastern Shore provides little scenery to enjoy in the inky black of night.

Odd to hear. Same with Jerry and Jack. “It’s me. but the thought of cutting my hair to save my hide bothered me. We had fifteen minutes until the bus left for Chinatown. throwaway cell phones with added minutes and bought one. Chad turned agitated. “Lerxst?” he called. looking for my signal. and he picked up on the third ring. since my brother was hardly an early to bed kind of guy.” he breathed gruffly into the receiver. something like an alarm clock lifted closer to verify the ungodly hour of the wakeup call. anybody at home noticed I was gone and needed to talk to me again. so I checked the travel shop for something to assist my escape. and possibly the manhunt hadn’t begun. Somewhere in Virginia Beach I knew there was a geek in a cubicle virtually hopping from cell tower to cell tower. of course. more urgently. He seemed surprised to hear from me. Sleep weighed down his voice. I couldn’t use my own phone too much. I found a bargain bin filled with cheap. though. I don’t have a lot of minutes to spare. “What’s wrong?” I relaxed a bit. I know I’ll bleed. Surely Grandma wouldn’t say anything. I take a razor to these blond locks. This is all assuming. No doubt the cops had a way to track it if I called home. “Something’s wrong with Grandma?” “Huh? No. nothing like that. With what cash I had left I bought a cheap Yankees ball cap for hiding my hair—I know it’s common for fugitives to drastically change their appearances on the lam. Just as quickly. That left one last possibility.DEAD BARCHETTA forced to swallow live eels while suspended upside down on bungees tied around their feet. “Johnston. Look. I’m in Jersey now.” “Lerxst?” I heard sheets rustling. on my way to—” 104 . which meant Grandma hadn’t contacted him.

“I’m going to need to borrow some clothes. either. no. “I took a bus. low as I could while still being heard.” “Why? You didn’t drive?” “Er.” “You get me out of bed to go to the Lower East Side. and I pinned the thing so close to my face it could have come out the other end. “Can I tell you later? I don’t think the phone will hold for that long of an explanation. tock. You’re working?” “Money never sleeps. “Chad?” “What?” he sighed. you’re buying at the Doughnut Plant. Chad. Chinatown?” One might have thought I’d driven into Iraq in a convertible wearing a red tank top. Chad. the way he sounded. “Look. boy?” Chad’s tinny voice sounded way beyond the confines of the tiny phone speaker.” “Why?” Tick.” Didn’t need Han or the rest of the bus hearing it. please.” “Tomorrow’s Sunday.” “I don’t need coffee.” I seethed.” 105 . Who knew who faked sleep two seats down? “Just come get me on Canal Street in about an hour.” I said.” “I’ll buy you a fucking doughnut forest.” “Right. okay?” I said.KATHRYN LIVELY “Why are you in Jersey? You gigging?” “I wish. but can you pick me up? I-I don’t have anywhere to stay. “I’ll get you decaf. “The hell you doing on a Chinatown bus. but suddenly his voice sharpened. Canal. I know it’s late. I’ll be in the city in about an hour. “just come get me and I’ll explain everything. Han turned back from the wheel with an odd look. “Canal? Fuck. I was trying to get some sleep for an early meeting. I’ll buy the coffee. too…and some money.” he droned.” He sounded as though he were drifting back to sleep.

a trip through Chinatown never happened on the itinerary. I pushed past greetings of Takshi. 106 . you know? How often do I get to visit my big brother?” “A job like yours. I bet I could take a picture and convince anybody I’d visited another part of the world. we rounded another direction and tall. you could come every weekend…and call in advance before you do. Only difference. takshi? to greet him. **** Of all the times I’d been to New York City to either visit my brother or mess around with friends. with little responsibility. Rather than head into Manhattan and circle the block for a thirty-dollar an hour parking space.DEAD BARCHETTA And a lawyer. he leaned to one side slightly and gave me the once over. Apparently he wanted me to follow him to the car. “I did call you. “Spur of the moment thing.” He rolled his eyes and turned on his heel. other than that?” I shrugged. or wherever. Chad’s not one for hugging. “No luggage. plain buildings with dirty windows gave way to more tall buildings with dirty windows. bypassing the illuminated Statue of Liberty on the right before delving into the Holland Tunnel. scowling in a crowd of eager. Arms folded. balding cab drivers with heavy accents. but at least he didn’t try to sock me in the face. only these were emblazoned with bright red neon Chinese characters. We came into the city as I normally would. however. adjusting the duffle strap. I shook the cramped sensation from my legs and tried to keep up. my older brother wouldn’t be standing by a boxy bus depot on the other side of the planet.” I told him.

“Didn’t realize it was open this late. Terry’s friend told me. “You have doughnut connections. Awesome.” He smirked and rolled his eyes again. and Chad never volunteered to bring her home for the official commitment visit. My brother had informed us a few months ago that he’d met this Terry. from which a line of people snaked out the open door. a caterer. “I saw this place on TV. watching people lumber past. the mysterious Terry—Chad’s latest main squeeze. the added physical torture brought a new dimension to his assault on my self-worth.” “Really?” I nudged him. I shook away the anxiety as best I could. We stood in the drafty New York night.” Yes.KATHRYN LIVELY Chad didn’t turn around. but neither Grandma nor I got to meet the lucky lady. “If you must know.” Chad shrugged. cash. I chose to take the abuse completely. If Chad had a fetish. and more importantly a roof. “I got a tip from somebody they’d be up a while longer. This time. The one picture sent over e-mail via Chad’s phone appeared too blurred to make out a good impression. Grandma hoped for babies. We came to a small boutique shop.” “Ah. They filmed a Food Network show here today. “How much longer are you going to fly by the seat of your pants? Where will you end up that way?” On the run from the law. but he didn’t need to know that right now. Therefore. it had to be harping over my life choices. while I 107 . We walked for blocks.” I said to Chad. Much as I wanted to point out that I at least get to do what I want for a living—because who grows up wanting to be a glorified bank teller?—I knew I needed my brother for wheels. jaywalking across streets until the hanzi signs faded away at the edge of the Lower East Side. at a corporate function.

perhaps it would keep him out of trouble. I’m putting you up in the SoHo Holiday Inn.” he demanded. Chad didn’t blink as he dropped thirty bucks for half a dozen doughnuts and two coffees.” “Why can’t I stay—?” The look Chad gave me in response could have seared a sirloin. which I realized after the first bite had jelly piped all within it. “I need sleep. 108 . He dipped into the bag and produced for me a square.” “What?” Suddenly the jelly didn’t taste so sweet anymore. for fuck’s sake. damn it. Thinking more about it.” I frowned. And tomorrow you’re getting on the next bus back to Virginia Beach. Lerxst. “Talk. and I need help. but you can’t stay with me tonight. I sought out a semi-comfortable slab of concrete against a nearby wrought iron fence and my brother—in his black sweatpants and UVA alumni t-shirt—sat down on the ground next to me. Our view was an ominous project building. so I don’t have time for rambling. awaiting his return. if he didn’t want his little brother cramping his sex life then I’d sleep in the damn hotel. You’re an adult. I wouldn’t have showed up. Nothing is so bad that you had to run away. I supposed I’d find out soon enough. Why would you treat me like a stranger?” Chad’s face softened. Fine. “I’m your brother. I realized then the mysterious Terry might be warming the pillows. I am helping you. “We can’t talk at your place? I’ve had a hell of a day—” “Did I say you were coming home with me? When we’re through here. As the Doughnut Plant has no indoor seating. The line moved quickly. yeast raised treat.DEAD BARCHETTA figured the girlfriend didn’t really exist. “If you were a stranger. too.

” he said after a moment’s pause.” In the end. He still looked as glazed as the last vanilla doughnut. we stuck with what we had left while I recounted the events of my last two days more calmly. “I’m not that 109 . I hop the Chinatown bus.” “What? Wait.” he said.. A glob of pale yellow lingered on his upper lip for a few seconds before he tongued it away. “What is it?” “Nothing. I broke the round chocolate cake treat in my hands.” I reached for a second one. Finally he said. blinking as though I hadn’t said anything at all. “What?” he asked. “I’m just thinking I should have bought the whole dozen to get through this story. though. “You’re making this shit up. then leaned back as though to assess the line at the shop. slow down. Cops everywhere. shaking it slowly. I gulped down the rest of my lukewarm coffee and waited for Chad’s response.” I chewed fast and swallowed. Chad didn’t blink for an entire minute. Finally he looked down into the bag and took one of the miniature glazed crème brulee bombs and bit into it. She kills herself in my studio. They think I did it. She said she was out to avenge her father’s suicide but got to me by mistake. “One-legged girl smothers me.KATHRYN LIVELY “Okay.” Chad waved me silent.” “Why would I purposely hop a Chinatown bus and ride eight hours all the way here to feed you a line of bullshit?” I hung my head. Great doughnut. I followed his gaze. I’m serious about somebody trying to kill me. but frowned at me like I’d just presented him a crack pipe and asked for a refill.. Dead guy named Matt Johnston. Upon finishing. And then the other Matt died with my postcard in his house. “Give me the Twitter version—140 characters or less. “I’m in big trouble and I don’t know why.

DEAD BARCHETTA

creative, Chad. Don’t you think if I were I’d be doing a lot more than playing in a cover band?” I sensed him move closer, and soon his arm draped over mine, then pulled me into his side. “Sorry, kiddo. Just a kneejerk reaction. You gotta admit, what you told me is pretty unbelievable.” “I’m scared, Chad.” Damn it, I couldn’t keep my voice from breaking. “I thought my life was in danger one way, now I could be hunted for a different reason entirely.” “I know, man. I still can’t believe you left a note on that girl’s body. Lerxst, what were you thinking? You just gave the cops a gift.” I realized that now, but considering two people had seen me with Diane and two others could place me at the studio when she died, I didn’t think a simple note might bury me deeper. I felt constricted in my brother’s embrace. The neck of my t-shirt seemed to choke me. “I can’t go back to Virginia,” I told him. “What would I do, turn myself in? I didn’t do anything.” Chad shushed me quickly. I’d forgotten we were outside still, in plain view of passersby. “Did Grandma call you?” Chad asked me. “She’s probably worried sick.” “I turned off my phone when I left. I didn’t want to accidentally answer it and get tracked, you know.” I hadn’t checked e-mail, my Facebook, nothing. Who knew what the local paper’s web feed reported about me. The Internet is there with the news before it happens, after all. “If you want I’ll talk to her, let her know—” “No.” Chad stiffened at that. Hell, I about jumped back into the fence behind us at the strength in my voice. “The less people know about me, the better, I think,” I said. “Grandma will just tell Jerry, and to make her feel better he’ll make calls and track my ass down.”

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“Well, she hasn’t called me yet, but the longer you stay missing she will. I don’t like to lie to her.” “Yet you haven’t been all that up front about Terry,” I muttered, then immediately regretted the crack. From my sideways glance I saw my brother cringe, and I hoped silently that, given the gravity of my situation, he might overlook the barb as stress-induced. He inhaled deeply and said nothing, then, “Fine, have it your way. I’ll play dumb for now, but what are you going to do, go on the lam? You have no money, and no plan, I’m guessing.” “Not exactly. If you’ll float me a loan...” The exhaled response came out ragged and loud. “...I thought the first thing I’d do is learn more about this Diane Havoc.” I unzipped the bag and fished for her license. “She lives in Hoboken. Can I take the train there?” Chad leaned closer to peer into the bag, and groaned. “Jesus, Lerxst, you ripped off a dead body? How morbid are you?” “Hey,” I looked around and checked my voice, “Thursday night I could have been the body. There’s more to this chick than some spur of the moment revenge act. Maybe she’s connected to something bigger than this, and she sucked me into it.” “What do you mean?” Chad paled. “She could have killed that other guy for all I know. Why him, and why mess with me afterward?” “Lerxst, enough, okay?” Chad eased away and stood. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” As I got to my feet I heard him mutter, “Like hell you’re not creative, making up a stupid theory like that.” I didn’t say anything, just followed my brother up the Lower East Side to wherever he thought to take me. Yeah, the murder theory seemed silly, but right now it was all I had. That, and an address in Hoboken that hopefully could bring some answers, and closure.

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**** The more I thought about it, Chad’s suggestion to stay in a hotel made sense. Say the cops did think me a person of interest in Diane’s death…if they found me at Chad’s he’d end up in trouble as well. I had enough weighing on my mind to want to drag another family member into this. I idled in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, a few blocks from Chinatown, while Chad settled my room. In the elevator, he turned to me and frowned. “You’re not concerned the cops aren’t going to stake out this chick’s place?” I shrugged. “I’m hoping I bought a day or two by swiping her ID,” I said. “You figure it takes a few days for somebody to file a missing persons report, and the time it would take to match dental records or whatever...” “Prints,” Chad supplied. “They could run her prints and, if she has a record, ID her pretty quick.” Shit. It hadn’t occurred to me that Diane might not have been a first-time offender. “Not only that, what if you pop by her place and her roommate or somebody is there?” “No,” I said. “She lived alone, that I’m sure of.” I think. Dammit, I couldn’t remember now. We got to my room, and Chad waited to make sure the key cards worked. He took one for himself. “Look,” he said, digging into his pocket, “I really need to get out of here. I got your temporary phone number on my callback log, and I promise I’ll hold off Grandma as long as I can. In the meantime,” he handed me a wad of bills and a debit card. “This goes to my Paypal account. It’s not huge. Don’t go wild.” “I won’t. And I’ll pay back what I take.” Chad didn’t respond to that, but added, “Use it at an ATM. I think you can figure out the code.”

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I enjoyed my first genuine laugh of the day. 2112. What else would a Rush fan use? Pickpocket during a show, and you’re guaranteed to make out big. “Hey.” He drew me into a quick, bone-crushing hug, so hard I though he might follow up with a noogie or something equally juvenile. “Don’t do anything stupid. You have the room for three nights, that should give you time to figure out what to do. Got it?” “Yeah. Thanks, Chad. I owe you big time for this.” “No, you don’t.” With that he released me and started back to the bank of elevators. I hadn’t realized how the trip exhausted me. Once inside the room I flopped down on the bed on my stomach and closed my eyes. As badly as I wanted to sleep, however, anxiety proved too strong. I ended up rolling over and staring at the ceiling, contemplating the events of the last few days and speculating on those to come. Forty-eight hours ago I lay in a similar position with a pillow maliciously pressed into my face. Less than twentyfour hours later, the woman who did it ended up smothering me in a much more pleasing fashion. And I left her dead on a cold, hard floor, too scared for my own hide to see the problem through. Problem, heh. Who knew who’d follow Diane down to finish the job, exacting some twisted sense of vengeance? How long could I sleep in hotel rooms to avoid the inevitable—jail, injury, death...or, at the very least, some level of guilt. I took my phone out from my pants pocket and turned it on. Sure enough, I’d missed several calls. Grandma tried four times, Jack twice, and I saw a local number I didn’t recognize. The temptation to at least text back an assurance that I was okay burned a hole in my gut. If that kind of activity was traceable I didn’t want to help the authorities until I had enough evidence on my side to show that I had nothing to do with her untimely demise.

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Yet, a small voice inside my head nagged, “What if...?” To keep from using the phone, I accessed the photo album and scrolled through the different shots I kept there. I smiled at goofy mugs of me and the band taken at different shows, candids of me and Grandma at her last birthday, and older ones I had scanned just so I could access them here when I wanted. I flipped to a portrait of my parents, taken the year before Chad was born. Grandma said we boys favored Mom more with the same blond hair and water pale eyes, while Dad seemed more of a mutt. He resembled nobody in particular, and with his long hippie hair and porn star ‘stache in this photo, he looked more like a composite of all Twelve Apostles in some acid trip version of Jesus Christ Superstar. It always amused me how, growing up in Virginia Beach, many of my friends’ straight laced parents served peanut butter sandwiches with mayonnaise, and white milk with dinner. Even in the nineties, that kind of archaic mentality existed. They’d been reared on Frank Sinatra, me on Zappa. I used to ask Grandma what was wrong with everybody, why they weren’t more like us. “My dear,” she’d say, “I don’t think the world could handle any more people like us.” I used to think the reason my parents died young was perhaps we’d all been too much for the world at once, and God saw fit to scale back. Looking at their smiling faces on my little screen now, I wondered if I’d see them soon enough. With that thought burrowed deep in my brain, I finally drifted away, my eyes sealed shut with tears I tried hard not to shed.

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You needed the sleep more than another lecture. As grateful as I felt for the clothing. By six.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Eleven Ol’ Frank got it wrong: eventually the City does sleep. my stomach growled for food. some fresh underwear. I stripped and showered. and I snored right along with it. Either the world settled down to allow me some relaxation. and lingered with a towel around my waist. I found that. and the muffled traffic noises that had first followed me into dreamless sleep didn’t herald the morning as I’d expected. I lay in bed and hoped to claim a few more hours of rest. and Chad’s jeans and set out for breakfast. watching sports highlights on ESPN and trying win back some semblance of normalcy. or my body just responded to my need to shut down for a while. My eyes popped open sometime around four AM on Monday. Sunday morning indeed crept in like a nun. Rather than confirm the quiet by checking the window. it read in bold. unawares. Failing. Like 115 . and slipped away before I realized she’d stopped to visit. black strokes. A pair of black jeans. Chad had paid a visit. I packed everything in the duffel before slinging it around my shoulder. a Redskins t-shirt from the pile. and a few t-shirts sat folded on the table along with a note. it bothered to me know twice people had managed to get in my personal space while I slept. along with Sister Sunday. so I threw on a pair of the underwear.

I fixated mainly on two things: finding where Diane lived and getting a guitar. yet as I passed room doors toward the elevator I noticed a few trays with dirty dishes left out for maid service. but right now without one I felt pretty much helpless. I’m funny that way.” The pretty Asian barista behind the counter. on the edge of Chinatown. “Hey. seeing as how Chad would kill me for blowing lam money on his 116 . Typical New York City day. Yeah. get along better with people. perky and alert in her green hat and matching apron. is there a music shop nearby? Or maybe a pawn shop?” I thought maybe I could find a deal. and fueled up with coffee and a muffin. I think more clearly. Call it a crutch if you will. probably no different from Diane when she didn’t wear her “cast. I grabbed it for the ride down to see who else was dead and what had burned down while I wasn’t paying attention. smiled on my approach after I’d separated the cup from the cardboard sleeve and put everything in its proper receptacle. I couldn’t remember how to get back to the doughnut shop. so I settled on the first Starbucks I found. and I had trouble concentrating on them anyway. and accomplish more in a day if I have a guitar in hand. It’s an extension of who I am. The hotel didn’t offer any kind of continental spread that I saw. like Linus and his blanket. Too much work for six in the morning. big business bailouts. but my guitar isn’t just an instrument. No other Matt Johnstons died that the Times felt the need to report—just more crap about the never ending war. One had the remnants of the Times folded over a plate of crumbs. The newspaper provided little amusement beyond the headlines.DEAD BARCHETTA hell I’d leave Diane’s magic limb unattended for somebody to find. and the release of some notorious Mafia criminal from prison.

Sometimes these things offered fringe views of Jersey—I knew Hoboken sat on the river. I moved toward what looked like a convenient mart for a Coke and hopefully a map. up early. mainly those running the food markets. I’ll take the guitar over food. Who should I find there but my new BFF? Han Chen leaned on the customer side of the counter. The girl proceeded to give me the most convoluted directions that I doubted Google Earth could fix on my intended destination. I learned this particular neighborhood took its time in waking. hosed down sections of pavement and pushed away the foaming residue with wide mouthed brooms. Surely along the way I’d find a store of cheap imports. A few older men. Seeing New York’s east side at close to seven AM. Han scooted out of the way to accommodate me. then a free tourist map from a wire stand by the counter. After about a half hour of wandering around and checking illegible signs.” I grabbed a soda from the first cooler within reach. chatting up the pretty little girl dwarfed by colorful displays of international calling cards and jade jewelry. Most storefronts remained shuttered with their metal garage style doors still locked to the sidewalk. “What are you up to today?” I asked. No sense being rude. though.KATHRYN LIVELY perception of a frivolity. Rather than ask for clarification. In English he said. At this point. I decided. I nodded my thanks and started back toward semi-familiar territory in Chinatown. “Ah. On seeing me he cracked a wide grin and spoke rapidly to his friend in a manner that had me thinking he planned to impress the girl either by claiming I’m his celebrity bud or conning me out of my savings. “Heading back to the beach later?” 117 .” “Got a long day ahead of me. a ukelele with Hello Kitty’s cutesy mug on the face would suffice. so maybe once I got there I could catch a taxi to Diane’s. Let him bitch.

“My cousin takes two lessons. I take care of you. used twice. “Well. and one black plush sofa. I probably could take Han out if necessary. Back Wednesday. He made a strumming motion with his hands. clueing me in that Han likely shared the space. a tuxedo. that set off the warning bells.DEAD BARCHETTA “My week to work here. not drugs. I only wanted a guitar.” While the girl counted my change he tossed a business card on my open palm. “This your place?” 118 . Han crooked his neck to beckon me out of the store. It might have been the narrow. “I get you one. to make conversation. “Brand new Fender strat. Here you go.” “You selling one?” I had to raise an eyebrow at that.” I don’t know why I felt uncomfortable.” I pocketed the card.” “Oh. “off to find a guitar. I bet if I had asked for anything—a guitar. “Yeah? You want Fender?” he asked. dark stairway leading up to some unknown hole in the wall in a strange city. Still.” “Sounds good. I asked. So he quit and try singing instead. I noticed he “played” lefty.” Han brightened at that. and since I didn’t need to socialize much while here I figured Chad could use the discount. Dim sum works better with a group. decides he doesn’t play like Van Halen right away. and I followed him down the street a few paces to a side door wedged between two storefronts. Dirty plates stacked on the counter of the galley kitchen.” he called over his shoulder as I tried to keep up with him. heatseeking missiles—the guy probably had access to a trunk full of it. with clean walls and carpet. He pushed it open to reveal a nice efficiency.” I collected my loot and waved a farewell. but hell if I knew what waited on the other side of his presumed apartment door. an entertainment center with a flat screen. “Half off dim sum. led by a strange man. you ask for my table. actually.

of course they didn’t stay in one place very long. just palming the maple wood neck sparked a familiarity that immediately calmed me. he handed it to me. Han could sneak up from behind with a piano wire garrote and the cops would surely find my severed head bearing an expression of absolute bliss. The Fender produced. if he and his friends worked the different bus circuits to and from New York. with its lamb’s wool underside. and a small amp. which had a checkerboard print strap. “Keep going. You doing great. Good enough for me. “I won’t be buying the amp. the light gauge strings proved easy on the fingers. a Mexican made standard. ignited by crackling static.” “Your cousin won’t mind?” The look I received in answer told me this phantom cousin had no say in the matter. “Any requests?” I joked. playing all the while.” I said. The deep hum. With the Strat plugged in and primed with Han’s initial F-chord strum.KATHRYN LIVELY Han splayed his hand. Han plugged it in and switched to a low setting. “I’ll sell with or without. I had enough to lug around.” “Nah. The strap cut into my shoulder. “Must be pretty cramped. feeling nothing like the softer one on my ES-355. “Try it out anyway.” Han backed into the kitchen and I turned to keep an eye on him. Only two or three here at a time. “Five of us.” He left me to ponder that a moment while he dashed into the only other room.” Damn! This place looked no bigger than my attic room at home. filled the room. fingers stretched wide. The baby got his bottle.” he said. All the same. though at times I had to press 119 . though my fingers worked out the opening notes of “Red Barchetta” of their own volition. Linus his blanket. Han emerged with the Strat. Made sense.

Despite the shine on the body. “You know a quick way to get to Hoboken?” I forked over the cash. The temperature had cooled significantly on 120 . “How much for it?” I asked. however. for regular strings would certainly cut into uncallused hands. and thoughtfully took a long pull from the brown bottle as he considered a fair price. I found an empty bench in Sinatra Park and sat. which he carefully shuffled in his hand before folding the bills neatly in half. I reached into my pocket for two twenties and a ten. Me. it sufficed. lifting the guitar and strap away. the scratches on the face couldn’t be concealed. I could subsist on cart dogs until I saw Chad next. **** It took some time to decipher the subway grids on the back of the map I bought. Breakfast of champions. if he wanted to.” he said. I guessed Han’s cousin must be a youngster. Clearly the cousin hadn’t used a case to take to his lessons. I was sold. “but for you. and it wasn’t as though I intended to tour the world with it. but after two hours of stops and starts from the Lower East Side to the arguably the best view of Manhattan. Getting to Jersey without cab fare.” I might have paid three times as much back home at a used music shop. It seemed a good price.” He grinned. “Pawn shop offered forty. Might as well get something. he could afford a cab now. “Not quick to get anywhere around here. everybody has his own five o’clock. By the time Geddy would normally embark on his weekly crime.. alligators envy my skin. As a touchstone. Han had a beer in hand. fifty.DEAD BARCHETTA them harder against the fret board to get the notes right. why would I go to Jersey?” Why indeed? At least.. “If I knew.

I have so much social network action integrated into this thing that the second it’s on I expose myself to my entire Facebook audience. To my relief. It wouldn’t take much to call up Google Maps and plug in the address on Diane’s license. Isn’t there supposed to be a statue of him somewhere here?” For some reason my thoughts wandered. My mobile phone burned into my side. Besides. How did they pose old Frank. yet it didn’t appear to deter people from enjoying sandwiches and ice cream as they hunted for bare slabs of curb and spots by a nearby war memorial. when he picked up the line he didn’t sound at all irritated. With lunch hour close. but my mind forced focus on making it to Diane’s and getting this part of the day done. or lead anyone to think I’m available to chat. The guitar stayed in my bag. like with the Elvis stamps? If the Devils won a game did they throw a jersey over his head? 121 . I felt bad enough going an entire day without so much a text saying OK. I don’t plan to update my status anytime soon. This left me with little recourse than to find somebody who could send directions. I gathered he must be in his office or some other closed space. but I didn’t want to turn on to a series of missed calls from home. “Hoboken. in Sinatra Park.KATHRYN LIVELY this side of the river. At this point I wasn’t so sure the cops or whoever could track me that way. Paranoid much? I’m still alive. “Where are you now?” A low level of noise surrounded his voice. My stomach growled to see it all. and though I wanted badly to calm my nerves by playing it I decided it was best not to attract attention to myself. yet my hand remained gripping my thigh. as though the length of neglect triggered some alarm for me to use it or have it fuse permanently into my body. I hoped Chad could spare a few minutes. assuming it existed? Did residents vote on whether to do a young Frank or old.

then. If only I had a hat to collect coins. I wouldn’t be in this damn mess. My stomach flipped at the prospect of my visit—he’d said lives. That hadn’t occurred to me.” “Lerxst. her place is above a bunch of shops. “You’re not far.” I said. “If I hit a dead end I’ll come back to the hotel.” I thought I might have to bring out the guitar after all to accomplish that. Used to be she excelled in sniffing out lies. anyway.DEAD BARCHETTA Whatever takes my mind off death. sounding out each syllable over the static. Obviously pressed for time. That made it all the more morbid for me.” He rang off rather abruptly.” he paused and his voice lowered.” he said. Talk later.” he said. “Okay. “You sure you want to do this? Even if you have a key. and what he had told her if so. I’ll think it. He must have typed it out as I spoke. “We’ll see. Look for a Crumbs bakery. as though to keep from saying anything else. too. **** 122 . No problems skirting around the Terry issue. “From what I can see. If only I had developed the habit of locking myself in at all times. “be careful. but I’ll call your room later and bring up some takeout. Maybe I’d get lucky and movers would have the door propped open to haul out a piano. I wondered if Grandma had called him recently. “What address am I looking for?” I gave it to him. Chad didn’t answer.” “Sounds good. because seconds later he pinpointed the destination. but it made sense in an urban area. but Chad’s many years of schooling seemed to help mask intended deception. this chick lives somewhere on the main drag. you probably won’t get in.” Shit. I’ll bet her building requires a passcode. he was. I gotta work late.

I realize the finance world doesn’t take a holiday. which meant no rabid M*A*S*H fans. Passersby didn’t afford me any notice. Next up: four-oh-seven-seven. naturally people packed the sidewalks to begin another busy week. situated in between similar kitschy shops just a few blocks from the park. “Terrific. and pondered my next move.KATHRYN LIVELY I found the cupcake place. 123 . I tried one-two-three-four. but surely other people who worked in Chad’s office were capable of spotting him a mental health day. I followed the path of her gaze with my own eyes to discover she’d fixed on the neck of the guitar. not even five minutes to savor a two-thousand calorie cupcake. As my brother predicted. not quietly. this can only mean another marathon jam session. when a shadow fell on the door’s window grid and one of Diane’s neighbors came into focus. the frown that creased her face could have turned warriors to stone. Nada. Curly-haired with her attention somewhere else besides ahead of her. No stupid people live here. so casually I walked up to the panel as though to buzz for a resident. she pushed through into the sunlight and looked up momentarily to gauge the weather. This being Monday. sticking up from my bag.” she grumbled. Strike one. No Rush fans in the building. doing my best to appear the befuddled dope with a guitar studying directions on my mobile phone. either. a numerical lock on the outside door proved my biggest obstacle. No click signaled a victory. The legend above the keypad listed Diane’s apartment as I saw it on her license—number three—and I tested the first four-digit sequence that came to mind. Clearly Hoboken as a collective didn’t take work as seriously as my brother. who literally never punched out. When her gaze fell on me. I lingered close. either. I stepped back to weigh what little options remained.

West Virginia. If someone were to catch me. oh. I needed all concentration at the moment on the stubborn locks of Diane’s front door. It occurred to me just then that Diane might have asked a friend to stop by and water them. Shallow French balconies hung over the sidewalk. yet all the same I caught the implication from her. too. I remembered.DEAD BARCHETTA Dare I respond? I didn’t know how to without risking a comeback to result in injury. come back for his prized Audioslave t-shirt that she borrowed and never returned? Second cousin from Beckley. sorry about that. “Some of us are diurnal and have jobs. “How long do you think you’ll last anyway? Swear to God. Answering that didn’t interest me as much as getting into Diane’s apartment. I pulled on the knob. what would be my alibi? Ex-boyfriend who kept his key. thinking a 124 .” Why argue with the lady when she’d just gifted me so? I just hoped I didn’t have to name the musician with whom she assumed I jammed. What if he’s not my type? The door bearing a brass number three was situated at the far end of a short hallway. say midnight?” she said. She shook her head and started on her merry way down the street. a new one every week. too. using the key she left duct-taped to the upper ledge of the door frame to crash until Monday’s audition for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Is that even in first run still? I’d think of something. so I would make this tour quick. her voice pitched in a sneer. the deadbolt above felt fused into the wall. While the knob begrudgingly gave after a few seconds of rough twisting. and it appeared that Diane’s place overlooked the main street. but the woman helped me by holding the door open. with more than one lined with sprawling potted plants and flowers. Allegedly I’d come to screw my jam partner.” I let the door close behind me and took to the narrow stairs two at a time. “You think maybe this time you guys can break around. Now.” “I’ll try.

I can’t speak for others. I glanced one way to the galley kitchen entrance and the other to a tight closet cramped with coats—hinges from a missing door remained and were painted the same ubiquitous dull white as the walls.KATHRYN LIVELY nudge to better align the door against the jamb might help. She had girlfriends who went to Disney World once. knowing what I do of Diane. A saucer laced with crumbs teetered on top of a stack of magazines and junk mail. and thought enough of her buds to frame photos of them mugging with Pooh Bear and Goofy for the camera. In the span of about five minutes I learned quite a bit about my almost-killer. I exhaled when the key turned and the loud snick of the bolt retracting rewarded my tenacity. and—confirming her vegetarianism that she’d revealed to me a few days ago—subscribed to at least two magazines dedicated to it. but not a sloth while you’re going through my stuff. bare windows illuminated a living room of mismatched furniture and maple shelving. and the move worked. The apartment looked pretty much what I expected of an urban efficiency. Ahead of me. I moved to collect the dish but stopped. What would they think to learn their friend had hung herself? Who would get the phone call from the Virginia Beach police to claim the body? Diane also had been a slob. the natural light shining into wide. Think of me as a madman. Of course. She listened to a mix of jazz and electronica. 125 . Not good. Prints. but if I ever meticulously plan somebody’s death I’m going to at least tidy my place up in case I lose my life in a shootout. liked Blackadder enough to own every series on DVD. Standing in the compact foyer with a side table used for mail and spare change to my left. she might have been in the middle of a snack when the idea popped into her head.

Before leaving for Virginia 126 . and judging by the names Diane apparently shared my fondness for prog rock. Snow Patrol. How many other musicians had Diane entertained? The scene amazed me.. The sleeping screen woke to a browser window pointed to a Web mail inbox and a photo editing program.. given Diane’s seeming ignorance of the group. Interesting. Jamming into the wee hours. a Chris Squire signature Rickenbacker 4001 bass. and the script boy passed me by.DEAD BARCHETTA And they were all over the knob. and I might as well have transported my own room to Jersey. but right there she had tacked on the closet door a sales sheet for the Grace Under Pressure album. it held only a rumpled twin bed and a wooden dresser for clothes. After a mental note to wipe them on the way out. so I dipped in for a few and used them to pry open the clamshell. Change the bass to an ES-355. Not just any garden variety. Diane’s laptop whirred quietly on her bed—this girl obviously didn’t care how far she ran up the power bill while on her murder spree. Diane owned. I remembered Diane’s disgruntled neighbor. but a new crop of questions popped into my head. Acting? All the world’s a stage. Yes’s “Roundabout” sounded in my ears as I imagined that petite redhead thumping away on this ax. I blinked to make certain. and perhaps played. Serious business for somebody who claimed no connections to her father’s old line of work. Smaller in size. Posters decorated the walls. either. I tried the bedroom. Another thing that surprised me. The adjacent bathroom had a box of tissues on the sink. neglected by a lazy cousin and sent to a pawn shop to die model. Porcupine Tree.. I came here for answers. too.. Rush. the bass guitar propped in the corner near the bedroom entrance. This had to be the place.

and no family that I could discern. Perhaps she’d acted as recording secretary for her clique.” she said. as I noted from the quiver in her lower lip. “Damn it. but eventually I struck gold with a collection of pics visible from a photo sorting program. Diane had been working on a logo for a band— Lazy Mae. Diane. I don’t think I could have jumped any higher. It took a few minutes. damn near choking me. wielding a large kitchen knife as though she intended to aim for my forehead. looking at the cartoon images of three lean. careful to tap the keyboard mouse pad and keys with a tissue covered finger. literally.” I muttered. I found more of the same from the framed shots in the living room.com and specialty clothing stores. I downsized all windows and pulled up a new one from her pictures folder. Thinking I’d gain a better picture of her.KATHRYN LIVELY Beach. My heart pounded centimeters from my throat. I scrolled down half a page of shipping confirmations from Amazon. collecting invites to go clubbing and such. She also liked to shop online. Diane had been popular to an extent. mean broads posed a la Charlie’s Angels with instruments instead of weapons. “where are you in all of this?” “Why don’t you ask me?” **** If you’d shot a needle full of adrenaline into my heart. Her incoming messages provided some insight as well. 127 . The feeling of fright was mutual. an all-girl rock group I guessed. All the shots appeared recent. but nothing of Diane herself. She filled the doorway from my point of view. “I don’t have anything worth taking.

“I’m not here to steal. but my sigh of relief shortened on seeing her phone. “You don’t really know that. I know Diane Havoc.” she barked.” Yeah. “I am Diane Havoc.” I said.” she shot back.DEAD BARCHETTA I cut in quickly. let that stick. I looked up for a sharper view of my would-be attacker. thinking to how she got in herself. for the love of Ged. “I damn well do. A gun? No. Pixie-cut black hair framing an angular scowl. only my charging heart and scattered thoughts prevented me from properly placing it. I tried to stand. “I promise you. I cringed at the tone of my voice. Then she released one hand from the knife and reached into her pocket. anyway?” “A friend of Diane’s. it sounded stupid.” I shook my head. and I didn’t plan to stay. In a show of good faith. I’m trying to help her. “Are you on drugs? Who the fuck are you.” “You are so full of shit. you jackass. dreading having to break the bad news to Diane’s friend. I kept my hands raised so she’d realize I meant no harm. “She loaned me a key. My new friend readily agreed with my selfassessment. “To do what?” she demanded.” I said.” 128 . I swear. I knew the face. I thought I’d have the place for a few minutes. but she flashed that iPhone at me like it might explode any second.” I begged. dark eyes brewing a storm.” She turned the blade and jabbed the air. “You’re lying.” Please. “Please don’t call the cops. from Virginia. multiple hoops pierced along the shell of her left ear. Had I left the door cracked? That might have been why the woman—whom I now recognized as Goofy’s girl from the picture in the other room—didn’t call the police at first. “Diane didn’t give you jack.

I didn’t come to rob you.” 129 .” this Diane snarled. Of course. you don’t. so she said. after all. Though I probably could have put up a decent offense to knock her very thin frame to the ground. “Don’t bother. but she lifted it again with renewed fervor. she lied. otherwise you’d do better not to go nosing around my apartment.. whoever she is. I wasn’t lying when I said I knew Diane. then leaping out the bedroom window to the sidewalk.” she griped. and to her credit she didn’t charge at me with it. Even as I glanced back for a brief reconnaissance I heard ”Diane” chide me. I raised my hands again. much less breaking into it. the window didn’t appear movable. I don’t know. she provided no berth for me to exit. “I’ve been after the super for months to come fix that fucking fire hazard. with the kitchen knife.. must have seen something in my expression to evoke a sense of sympathy toward me. You. Only problem. “I promise you. either. She had the advantage over me. That window is painted shut. the threat of sharp versus muscle didn’t promise results in my favor. “You certainly don’t know me. My best bet for escape looked to be a quick toss of the laptop toward her head to buy a moment’s distraction.” “Well. and why the hell am I telling you this?” Her knife hand slackened.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Twelve Diane Havoc.” “No.” “She said she was Diane.

” “I can see that.is that a foot?” She looked at me. I still wavered one hand near my jeans.DEAD BARCHETTA Slowly I reached with one hand behind me to my back pocket. I managed to shift far enough to see her toe the duffel’s contents with a tincture of care. then her jaw fell slack. I leaned over a bit and watched Diane kick something. eyes wide. she broke in with. Sure. “is Diane’s. This triggered some alarm. Time to take some initiative. and she stabbed at the air between us. “Just want to show you something. I expected to spend a long time explaining myself and the situation. However. Before I opened my mouth to speak again... “How did you get in here? The door wasn’t busted in. I swear. “Like I’d own any of this crap. It wouldn’t surprise me if it twanged in half from the impact.” It sounded weird to say it.” she muttered. “I’m not packing. “Jesus. I didn’t take anything of yours. waiting an explanation. Finally. but at this point I didn’t know what to call her anymore. “That. My Diane.” I rolled my eyes and flopped back on the bed.” My cue. She screwed up her face. parked in her living room. you cut off her leg?” “It’s fake. That’s when I remembered my bag.” I said.” I rose from the bed but that poised blade kept me still. “What the fuck. “It’s all mine. and instead of just pulling out the license as I’d 130 . The Strat’s strings gave off a mangled wail as her foot strummed an awkward chord.” Stating the obvious or a veiled swipe at my manhood? I thought to ask for clarification when I heard a clunking sound from outside the door. but the multiple side roads in the conversation she seemed destined to explore would have me parked in this position ‘til next week.” I said.

not with this laptop of her pictures. “I wasn’t going to take the Rick.” Diane picked up the key and turned it in her fingers. Crap.” “Honest.KATHRYN LIVELY planned I brought out the key along with it. I didn’t doubt her identity. “if I really wanted to rob you. You’d be pulling this out of your throat. I’d have taken stuff and left. She left the implication hanging in midair.” I said. but tried to placate her. no problems?” “No. the owner of that leg.” Silence followed. but imagining the reaction of this Diane learning of her imposter’s death proved a greater headache than a potential knife wound. “Where’d you get that?” she demanded. with just the two of us staring at each other. “Di. either. Besides.” I said. “Damn straight. and I saw the more I talked she appeared to wear down. I don’t know my. and she stared at it like I had just flung something really disgusting at her. too. My dumb luck. I intended to leave everything put. uh Diane didn’t have next of kin and would miss anything. 131 .” I added. That I tossed on the bed in front of me. inspecting the teeth and groove before pocketing it in her jeans. to meet a female musician—and a Rush fan to boot—under these circumstances. further words unnecessary. She must have noticed my gaze fixed on her bass.uh. sure. “Where is this other Diane?” A sharp suspicion colored her voice. “And it worked in the lock. I didn’t answer her question. The question was bound to come up. I didn’t anticipate any. I thought this was her place. Why hang around with your computer instead of pack it in my bag?” “Maybe the one thing you wanted to take was my identity.

if the women shared some kind of connection she’d learn it soon 132 . I wanted those answers as well. the person. “I want to know how many extra keys to my apartment were made after they were done. I surrendered the license to her. too.” She jerked the phone in her hand. “I bet I know who does. then closed with. I was free to battle the paint sealed sash and dive into the busy Hoboken traffic. just like that girl—the one who smoked up a dream then shared my bed—had done to Diane Havoc. “I’m not questioning whether or not the locks were changed. probably a good decision since she returned with the knife waving and her larger phone wedged in the crook of her shoulder. With a heavy sigh her knife arm fell limp and she pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand. She concentrated on the redhead’s smiling face and moved as though to shake her head no. Took the knife with her. and hoped Chad knew a good lawyer. and tossed it out of sight.DEAD BARCHETTA She thought I tried to steal her. So I stayed put. If she knew how to find out about fake Diane. She listened and nodded a few seconds more. “I got a second key that I didn’t order that says you are lying. and if you won’t be honest with me you can talk to my lawyer. the most aggressive manner of hanging up one can accomplish these days. she left.” Process of elimination told me she wasn’t presently cussing out the cops. “Do you know where this imposter is now?” she demanded. No sense prolonging the inevitable. yet I felt powerless to move. I about shit myself.” she was saying into the receiver.” Just like that. Diane finally noticed the card in my hands. but suddenly her mouth dropped open. “Do you know this woman?” I asked her.

“Last I saw. piling her bounty on the stove. she’d put it together. as though the answers to her questions died as well. bacon. Think of me as a killer or burglar.KATHRYN LIVELY enough. “I do.” I said. she saved me the trouble of killing her.” The woman’s face softened into a frown. fine. thinking she didn’t care for the long biography.” I cringed. Actually.” She’d turned to extracting 133 . Diane rummaged through cabinets and the fridge. but never a hack when it comes to the guitar.. Bread. Shaking her head. “I don’t see it. I don’t look like he does today. grill spray. Any delay would definitely arouse more suspicion.” **** Satisfied that her belongings remained intact.” “Well.. He’s got twenty years on me.” “So that’s your POS Strat in the bag then. “She killed herself. “I’ll give her this. you know. She had the poster. and she’s not going anywhere without some assistance. Soon enough. she was in Virginia Beach. I swallowed. Diane looked hard at me. the same frustration I felt. and for a moment I expected a shocked reaction or. “What’s your name?” she asked. after. Friends call me Lerxst.” I trailed off. Diane returned the knife to its block and bade me to sit at the tiny round table straddling the border where her living room carpet ended and the linoleum began. tomatoes. “Matt Johnston. I saw a shrug and. Diane ducked back from her busywork to look at me. While I twined my fingers on the red dining surface. cheese. “It’s temporary. until I figure out what to do. at the very least. she replied. it wasn’t so much a “bade” as it was a barked command strong enough to rattle a pro wrestler.

“What’s that?” She hadn’t seen my silent answer. “I’m not going to call the cops. “But. you’re not off the hook.” Thank Ged on both counts. here’s how it’s gonna play. “Oh. proved to give her strength and calm her as well. “You will tell everything you know about this girl impersonating me.” she said with all the pride of a new mom. Diane’s reaction led me to realize that she was the popular one around here. I could eat. but some lady let me in. I thought of Grandma at home. I even tried a few combinations. home in her element. either.” This earned me a smile. It wasn’t a lie. I hoped. too?” “No. I chanced a glimpse of Diane and realized this position. And how in the hell did you get past the front door key? Did you have that code. ”Got her in the divorce. “Nothing substantial. and she addressed me with the gleaming tip.” I called out. how you got that key.” Diane suddenly had her trusty blade back in hand. we reached common ground. and if I could guess from the souring 134 .” I said. sure.” Strike that. At last. and I’m gonna feed you. Somehow the white noise of Diane preparing a snack calmed my nerves.” She sprayed a griddle liberally with PAM. “Okay.. and reached for a brick of American cheese slices. reverse it. flipping a slice of French toast and filling the kitchen with an inspiring aroma to lure any dieter from his morning protein shake. Lerxst. ”Yeah. That Starbuck’s muffin still churned and erupted sugary discomfort.. that’s my BettyLou. She saw the guitar and believed I’d come to jam with one of your . ”You eat lately?” I shook my head. and what you thought you were going to find in my bedroom.” she said.DEAD BARCHETTA bread slices from the long plastic bag. “Nice Rick you have in there. either. as Willy Wonka once said.

” “I thought you were the vegetarian. don’t you?” I had to smile. You’ll enjoy it if you’re not a vegetarian. like Grandma’s horticultural hobbies and my roll in the sack with her assumed mortal enemy. Maybe here.” “Actually. and she ripped away a few raw bacon slices from its slab with some aggression. complete with—and forgive me. “Okay.KATHRYN LIVELY look on her face.” I said.” “Well. I mean.” From there I launched into the tragic tale of lame-legged Diane and my run from the law.” She said nothing for several seconds. They hit the pan with a hiss that no doubt complemented Diane’s spiraling mood. should just be labeled ‘the’ thief. she met me first. so how did you meet this suicidal thief?” “Uh. remained unrevealed. assuming that’s who we’re talking about. as though processing the logic before her head exploded. “And she just buzzed you in?” Down slammed a spatula. Then. “You have quite the flair for nit-picking. If it’s the latter I sure as hell plan to defend myself. Details irrelevant to our current situation. technically. “I’ll bet she waved in the last thief that hit my next door neighbor. Answer my question. “I don’t know where I’ll be in the next hour. As 135 . did you spray that pan then put bacon on it? Doubling up on the grease?” “I plan to kill you slowly. so the fake Diane. maybe jail. Arlo Guthrie— three part harmony and mental images of each scene played out in glossy eight by tens with circles and arrows. “You wouldn’t believe the things I’ll eat.” That won me a smirk.” she muttered. I saw the magazines—” “I’m omnivorous. jerking her attention back to me.” She leered at me. “I’m not a thief. “Damn bitch. She returned to the knife and resumed slicing tomatoes. the notion of me as her man of the week irked her.

Spent the whole next day calling banks and 136 . Drawing a deep breath as my coda. focusing on her food. “Does that mean you think I made all this up?” I broke off a bit of crisp bacon sticking from the edge of my sandwich. I doubted she could handle much more truth. “Walter likes to cut corners.” she said finally.” I said.” Diane plucked a particularly squishy string of tomato from her sandwich. I studied her silent movements as she lifted two grilled sandwiches from the stove. “Were you talking to your landlord earlier?” “The super. I’m guessing. I come back and I could tell somebody had been in here.” She offered little more. maybe a Monty Jack. My landlord is an absentee businessman who travels the world selling pyramid scheme health juice while his idiot brother-in-law manages his Jersey properties.” “And duplicate keys. I made the mistake of trusting to leave my place unlocked while I went downstairs with a twenty to grab some breakfast. If I didn’t think she wanted me out of her life after today I could go for a woman with such skills. and opened the refrigerator for two sodas. “Am I allowed to ask questions?” Diane shrugged. How long ago were yours stolen?” “Six months ago. Left all the cash and my phone. Looked like she used two kinds of slices. That’s how I knew to expect something worse than some juvenile shopping spree on my dime. “I should be so creative when I write songs. my driver’s license. “I didn’t say that.DEAD BARCHETTA over the top as my narrative sounded. and handed one to me. and my house key. plated them. “I’m allowed not to answer if I choose. What was strange was that they rooted through my purse and only took a few of my cards.” Better than being told to fuck off. “Fair enough.

I couldn’t keep a chuckle from escaping with the words. Don’t laugh. “That’s cool you get to work with a big musical like that. “Mamma Mia. “If my key works in your new lock. Just had a key made from my current lock to save a few bucks. nobody is going to admit making a copy key to be used later for nefarious purposes. “Just thought I’d ask.” She tossed down the browned crusts of her sandwich.” I shrugged. er. he didn’t hire a bonded man. is all. “Knowing Walter. Either way. “For all the good that did.” She sighed. too. “Lazy Mae is a side project with a few girlfriends from my day. and I asked. “Or. fused together by melted cheese slices. I’d love to tell the rest of my life story. “It pays the bills.” “Do you think your super knows this Diane?” I asked. “What show?” She smirked.KATHRYN LIVELY getting the locks changed before the thief could do any real damage to my credit rating.” Diane said. Anyway. Talking shop diffused the tension a bit.” “What? I’m not laughing. regular job in the orchestra pit. we’ll never learn the truth. though. “Why ask that?” “I’m a musician. Hell. he must have had the locksmith make a copy for her.” “You’re on Broadway?” She nodded.” “Do you gig full time?” Diane looked up.” She seemed to warm up to that. or she got to him with my ID and got an extra key made.” Diane grabbed my empty plate and rose toward the kitchen. maybe he never changed the lock and said he did. but I planned to head into the 137 . maybe the lock guy creates dupe keys at random and sells them.” Despite that admission.” “Or else the locksmith is running a scam. It’s something I hope to do with my life assuming I live through the week. which is fine for now.

You Googled him yet?” Actually. too?” “Sort of. With the laptop balanced on her knees. never to see each other again. I cut you a break. her back to me as I entered the bedroom.” I stood and tried to straighten the tablecloth. “Yo.” Diane sat cross-legged on the bed. Fake Diane had intimated little of his life was available online. Bytor!” she called. she pointed to a browser window open to Wikipedia and Alan Peterson’s entry. no problem. “Is he involved in this ID theft. now get out. no.” she raised an eyebrow at that. Diane let out a rough sigh and brushed past me to her bedroom. do I leave? The grilled cheese left a sticky taste in my mouth that the soda didn’t quench.DEAD BARCHETTA city in a bit to get some stuff done before the tonight’s performance. so as not to appear like a totally ungrateful mooch. she wiped her hands on a small towel and quirked her lips in thought. I thought momentarily that perhaps she’d let me snag a can from the fridge when a cry of victory sounded. that he was an actor who killed himself a while back because he couldn’t find work.” I said. I hedged too long on an answer. “Get your ass in here. “Before we do part. “My Diane claimed to be his daughter.” Dishes done. with all the obits. “could I ask one more question?” “You just did. It provided enough in bad news. “Now that you mention it. and I didn’t think the Internet would help. that guy does sound familiar.” Translation: I fed you. “Sure. Found something about your girlfriend’s dad. I stood there like an idiot for a few seconds: do I follow. 138 . but you might as well take advantage of my generous nature today.” “Are you related by chance to Alan Peterson?” Diane shook her head.

“Even rumored to have been gay. What’s the IHC?” Diane found the reference and groaned. With arms cut like hers. One thing I’ve learned in my short music career: never. “I didn’t know the guy.” “You think your girlfriend was involved with these guys?” 139 . “What’s that?” I wanted to point at the item of interest. but she seemed skittish at the above movement. “Says here he didn’t have kids.. There’s like a hundred other dead straight actors she could have used for her little scheme. The tighter the pants. the scars still look fresh.KATHRYN LIVELY Diane tapped his photograph. If you can’t trust Wikipedia to get it right. Seeing as she lied about everything else. probably a screen shot from some forgotten movie.” She turned to look at me. “just what I was told.. “Could you click the link? Maybe there’s a connection. she could get in a good punch in this position. no doubt unsure if I would grab her from behind.” I said. “Oh. I’ve heard of them.” Crap. There’s a ‘center’ in Manhattan. The International Harmony Church. from lugging around the Rick and probably its amp. ever pick a fight with a rock chick. “What? Where?” “Under the Personal Life heading. Five years after a scuffle at an Iron Maiden show.” “Your friend didn’t sound like a bright bulb. the spikier the hair. the longer the nails to scratch you to ribbons. some kind of cult church that makes the Krishnas look normal. Thank Ged more appreciative women find them sexy.” She framed “center” with finger quotes. expecting a reaction.” “Yeah. I’m not surprised. but how many of them killed themselves in the city?” I leaned closer to see the screen better and she moved away slightly.

I’m sure I blushed. “Right.” She clicked a few links and seconds later a whirring noise sounded from the corner of the room. “It’s fairly common among stage actors that I know of. “I was hoping you could print out directions to the nearest medical prosthetic office. Maybe he was her father and never publicized his private life. but she mentioned this guy specifically. but my life is complicated enough without investing the time to find out. a family would have made a good cover to keep the conservatives off your back. the more plausible it seemed for the girl to have belonged to a whack nut cult. The more I considered it.” I said. People used to rag on my grandparents.” Translation: get the fuck out and enjoy your pass. Diane rose and took three freshly printed pages from the printer’s output tray. too. “Something to read on the subway back to wherever it is you’re headed.” I said finally. “I kinda wanted to see about.” I saluted her with the rolled up pages and hefted the duffel to strap over my shoulder. this thing here. Or was it the leg? “You know.” Heh. but I’ve yet to meet a Deadhead who tried to kill me in the middle of the night. “I think she crafted her alibis for a reason.. Could I trouble you for one more thing?” “I don’t kiss on the first breaking and entering.” she told me.” 140 .. you seem like you could be a decent guy.” “True.DEAD BARCHETTA I tried not to cringe at that crack.” Diane conceded. “She could have sold me any type of sob story. She did say he died before she was born. “Thanks for the sandwich. My concern for Fake Diane’s soul faded by the second thinking of the hole I kept having to dig. and nodded to the heel sticking out of the open slot in the bag. She gazed downward and I realized she focused on the guitar in my pack. Even if he was gay. Here.

” She bounced down on the bed and performed another web search. “It doesn’t look like a prosthetic like I’ve ever seen. I knew I’d already had my bell rung. “Fair enough. “Just make sure this time wherever you end up you knock first.KATHRYN LIVELY Diane nodded slowly. okay?” Of course. a thick lock of hair falling down over one soft but brightening eye.” She shrugged at that. Watching Diane study her laptop screen.” “I guess a pro will know for sure. 141 .

specializing in all manners of prosthetic limbs for amputees via accident or illness. nowhere near walking distance of my hotel or even Chad’s place. The rest of the journey took me along the edge of Central Park. My grandmother believes in a higher power. and I managed to follow the correct lines to the nearest set of stairs leading to sunlight—and that still left five city blocks to walk. but it sure didn’t look that way. Diane’s route there included all the relevant subway stops. had cleared the city of independent vendors. Par for my course.DEAD BARCHETTA Chapter Thirteen The printout map directed me to one Eduardo Hernandez. I guess some had earned enough selling cheap plastic sunglasses with “I Heart NY” on the lenses to justify going legit with a business license. and tends to liken God to the 142 . or maybe it was Giuliani. As a musician partly inspired by the man—and name one who isn’t—I found this a difficult thing to do. Thankfully. The great ones leave us too soon. Would you ask a war veteran to take a relaxing stroll on Normandy Beach? That I could at least look up at the Gothic spires and ornate architecture as though searching for his window sent an unwelcome chill down my spine. which meant I needed only to look across the street to see John Lennon’s last stand. where hot dog carts and souvenir stands lined the sidewalk. I came to a sign at one park road intersection and stopped—I had arrived at Strawberry Fields. I could have sworn Chad told me once that Mayor Bloomberg. Hernandez’s office was located in Central Park West.

said a prayer to whoever might listen.KATHRYN LIVELY uber-hippie on the mother of all trips. By this logic. either. The large mosaic labeled simply IMAGINE appeared larger in real life than in pictures—where I had previously seen the landmark lined with flowers and other mementos. Yes. Just as she told me God wanted Mom and Dad “home” sooner. or else the city comes in periodically to sweep up. Sucks. I guess He decided John had nothing more to give here. I came to a clearing crowded with people. it wasn’t my time two days ago. today it was clean. Yeah. I didn’t get five steps out of the gathering throng when a raggedy man in a ZZ Top beard and dark dungarees nudged my elbow. Once I did that. John really didn’t know his attacker. After a few minutes winding around the asphalt path. How could I not pay my respects? I could argue now that I sort of related. “You gonna play one before you scat?” “Huh? No. I considered myself “on the run. gauging my proximity to the memorial by the growing silence and air of solemnity. I nonetheless took the detour into the park. what then? While I probably had about an hour or so before this guy closed up shop for the day. I’ve heard different things about that: a self-appointed homeless man will maintain the area. but took the brunt of his blame in the worst way. I stood there for a long moment.” I saw the sign near the benches at the park’s edge: no music in this part of park. and turned to leave. in life anyway. I felt more comfortable now hiding out in the city. God must have granted me a stay of execution to at least puzzle out why somebody here decided my time had neared.” but other than the knife waving by Diane I’d faced no other danger here. 143 . but I sure as hell didn’t need to attract attention to myself.

and next to Doug’s acoustic I probably seemed all the more inferior.” His voice rumbled low and he smelled of tobacco. “It keeps people coming here and spending money. provided I picked the song. Nice to meet you. I conceded to one duet. Where are Dirk and the Professor?” He winked. Blankets and an army sack took up half a park bench.” Precisely the point of a peace memorial.” I said. man. shaking the ball cap full of change. When Doug sang all the grit and grime in his voice melted away to release a pleasing harmony that attracted ears and—fuck—cameras. The gravel in his voice crunched in my eardrums. “Come on. Big mistake doing this.” one of my favorites. He stepped forward to block me. When he nodded toward a spot over my shoulder I turned to see what I presumed was his setup. “My name’s Doug.” We went with “Working Class Hero.DEAD BARCHETTA “I was just passing through. My guitar sounded a bit tinny without an amp to enhance the sound. I knew. 144 . When did I turn so cynical? The guy wasn’t going to let it go. and seeing as I felt the need to purge myself of this frustration. and of course Doug knew it by heart. and an old acoustic leaned against the seat. but rather than create a bigger scene by bolting mid verse I kept my head down and let my long bangs curtain my face. man.” “Good place to put it. “I use it for upkeep. “They don’t really enforce that rule much anyway. You’re all right. We finished to hearty applause and Doug collected a few bills.” he said. He shook my hand and led me to his base of operations. Just one before you go.” he said. and pushed out the way toward the narrow path.” he said. “Lerxst.” “Heh. “They’re at the Buddy Rich memorial near the zoo.

his choice. His body. Eyebrows raised. careful not to expose the leg. She must have suspected that of me. engrossed in a magazine until the door’s chime alerted her to my entrance. others more lifelike…feet with toes. **** Eduardo Hernandez’s office turned out to be a combination showroom and clinic. presumably to inspect my two good feet.” 145 . and hightailed it out of there before anyone could goad me into an encore. the more likely he’s come by to sell you something than vice versa.. Her head shot upward and she eyed me with a dazzling smile.. clearly amused. I had the duffle zipped up to the guitar’s neck. I suppose that’s a force of habit in a place like this—the more intact a body is. Anybody passing the building who didn’t know to expect artificial limbs might think the place was a shop for retail fixtures. I returned my guitar to my bag.. Through the storefront windows I saw displays of various artificial limbs—some like space-age titanium posts with joints. “Hi. then panned her gaze lower.. so God only knew what she made of that. a specialist…did he have a title? I certainly couldn’t appear too familiar with the guy. The smile turned slightly and I could tell she tried to look closer for any hints of insurance brochures or Bible tracts.” Here the brain shut down.what? We don’t have public restrooms. Whatever. This woman looked more than apt to sniff out bullshit. and nails. Was the man a doctor.KATHRYN LIVELY Surely that budget included a bottle of Jack to keep him upright. she said. That sort of thing. I was hoping for a few minutes with the. A blonde woman in a low-cut blue paisley blouse sat at a reception desk. “A few minutes with.

” I said. you’ve come to the right place then.” Close enough now to see what she read. That earned a laugh. flesh-hungry three-headed dog lurking in the back. “Go on back. I noticed she had the latest issue of Rolling Stone open toward the near end of yet another pointless Top 100 list of best whatever. “First door on the left. I’d like to speak with whoever is. “I’m looking for an opinion on a particular model of prosthetic leg. he didn’t have anybody in the back with him. 146 . “or are you researching for a loved one?” “You could say it’s the latter. To my good fortune. but at least she didn’t kick me out. Are you in need of a prosthetic. failing to find a missing limb. All that remained was the retina scan and the drooling. I doubted she believed me.” again her gaze seared me. She probably suspected I wanted one for some kind of sacrilegious bonfire ceremony.” She chuckled and momentarily went back to her magazine.” “Well.on duty at the moment.” Yet. “Whatever’s number one on the list you’re reading.” she crooked her head toward the shallow hallway behind her. Not my favorite rag. from the taciturn tone of the woman’s voice. When she offered me a seat in the small reception area in the nearest corner. as I overheard..DEAD BARCHETTA “Right. She hung up and twined her fingers over the spread magazine. I sensed I’d managed to get past one guard. I disagree.” I cracked. She picked up the multi-line phone and pressed one button. I learned then the receptionist enjoyed a familiar relationship with Eduardo Hernandez and that her voice turned to sugar when conferring with him. “You make it sound like this is a hospital. given they love Rush like the Westboro Baptists love everybody else.” “Thanks. rocking forward in her seat. Just a few questions about a prosthetic limb..

” He smiled. dark wood desk. I’d picture something like this. He had a nice office. and right then I realized I had not announced myself to his receptionist out front. never enjoyed such luck in arenas where men have greatly outnumbered female fans. Even at Dead Barchetta’s gigs. “Lerxst Johnston. with medical posters depicting the human body in various conditions: with and without skin. but I’d wasted enough time today to want to debate bad music journalism. few if any top heavy 147 . and one with a close up view of a leg’s musculature.” “Nice. he kept a trimmed mustache and close beard. Eduardo Hernandez looked like he might stand shorter than me. It hadn’t occurred to me to use a fake name here.” I like Zeppelin fine. Clearly of Hispanic or Mexican descent. “Seen ‘em thirty times at least since Moving Pictures. considering I was about to present the guy with some kind of evidence. “Not a common name.KATHRYN LIVELY She shook her head.” I said. I apologized quickly for that. “Fifty million Zeppelin fans can’t be wrong. I’m sure Eduardo had better things to do than rap with a non-paying visitor.” he said. which suited his face. white and neat. Sitting behind his broad.” “You’re a fan then?” Perhaps this would work out for me.” I. “I can only think of one other one guy who goes by that. so I let her keep the last word. “I met Lisa at a show in California. and nodded toward the door. and immediately wanted to cringe. on the other hand. With a smile and firm handshake he introduced himself. He wore a white lab coat over a nice blue dress shirt unbuttoned at the throat. He quirked a dark eyebrow at that. I suppose if I were asked to describe a prosthetic specialist’s office sight unseen.

“I don’t think anybody’s looking for it. the artificial one. the surprise in his voice might indicate he suspected something involving a possible young. “This isn’t genuine. only engineering students and men who.” Damn. “Could I see that?” Right away he’d answered one question: either people in his line of work don’t create prosthetics that double as jewelry boxes or he’d never received such a request. but since it came with a secret compartment—” “A what?” Eduardo reached out his hand. was given this as a prank.” I shook my head and tried not to meet his eyes. “Just a group of friends who’ve seen The Hangover too many times thought I’d rather have this for my birthday than Beatles Rock Band. foot pointed toward him.. Of course.” He leaned over his desk slightly as though to watch me root through the bag. men like this guy. The heel hadn’t touched wood when he said.” “I wouldn’t say that. Before we veered too far off course. “Really? There’s a story there.” What the hell? It’s not a genuine fake leg? Then what else could it be? He must have seen my confusion.” he corrected. One for whom he made such a limb. the lying got easier. “The workmanship is rather spotty.. I brought out the leg and stood it on his desk. uh.well. “I mean it’s not a medical prosthetic. with 148 . Your friends actually told you this was an artificial limb?” I thought back to Diane. and the image of her lifeless body curled on the studio floor. it feels more like a glorified cast than anything else. I. I’ll bet. and gestured for permission to handle the limb.DEAD BARCHETTA blondes crushed the stage. female patient. “I won’t take up too much of your time today. I took the chair in front of his desk and hauled my bag onto my lap.

“Well. I inched closer to see he had torn away a kind of wire embedded within the inner wall of the limb. “Anybody with a chisel and a weird sense of humor is my guess. What else had Fake Diane left behind? Maybe her real ID. “What the hell is that? Is it part of a wireframe that shaped the leg?” 149 . I could only say.” he said when I confirmed that. “I’m trying to loop a finger around it and pull. looking at me for a reaction. creating a loud ripping noise in his wake. and while his lips moved to say more he quickly smiled in victory and jerked his hand free. “offhand I’d guess your friends raided a Goodwill or a woodshop class for this one.” To illustrate the point. “Hm. Technically yes. It’s hollow.” he said. “You wouldn’t happen to know of any craftsmen around here who’d make something like this?” Eduardo shook his head. There’s nothing here to indicate this is used for limb replacement. murmuring about it being stuck. she had told me that. “I see.” That set my heart pumping. so somebody could easily wear it like a boot. or another clue about the person whose death changed my life? Eduardo made to tug at the mystery object. It was coated in red and Eduardo held the frayed end with tiny exposed copper wires toward me. or an answer.” I said. thanks. Doesn’t exactly narrow it down—” Here he raised an eyebrow and frowned at the limb. he plunged his hand deep inside and lifted the worn heel where I’d seen the tab for the secret compartment.” he explained. deflated. “There’s something down in here. which I could definitely use.KATHRYN LIVELY that one shriveled foot poking out like something from a freak show. Score one for the truth.

I heard from him. Lisa. a carbon.” “Okay. Eduardo. Seconds later. didn’t want to go into a lengthy explanation. so with a large NYC phone book to brace the safe we high-tailed it out of there. “What’s that ticking?” Why is it that a question like that never inspires confidence? We looked at the leg again with new eyes.” We stood together for a moment. sweetheart. He bent low near his desk to crank open an unlocked safe and cleared away a thick accordion file he had there. I’m guessing it’s threaded throughout the limb. Indeed. bless his Rush-loving soul. what’s wrong? What did he do?” She was slow to move.” he said. me grabbing the duffel. The leg’s wood. my own sense of selfpreservation must have heightened my senses. Eduardo grabbed her arm to lift her from behind the desk. of course. “Eddie. and this was underneath a layer of thin rubber inside the leg. still engrossed in her Rolling Stone.” He couldn’t get the door closed completely. struck match stench emanating from the depths of the leg. damn near resistant. looked up and her smile faded into bewilderment. Eddie. “Hey.” he said. studying the object and the wire. shoving in the leg. and I didn’t want to say anything and incur anyone’s wrath.DEAD BARCHETTA “Doubt it. “I think. “we really shouldn’t be in here. because now I could smell something foul. proved more agile in situations with unknown consequence. “What do you think?” I asked him. clearly worried and frowning at me in obvious accusation. What once had been thought of as a novelty cast for concealing a young woman’s abnormality had quickly become a sophisticated terror device. “how about you join us outside for a moment?” She resisted. 150 .

I held my breath.” That clearly relaxed his lady friend. the bulk of the explosives must have been in the sole. swinging the footless cast.” He paused. but the only thing I can tell you. The safe took the brunt of it. “You don’t know the half of it. “I had no idea. whatever Fake Diane had used to wire up her falsie for terrorist tactics. Don’t worry about it. sounded. along came another curve in the road—which a dead woman just tried to blow up. and it looks fine. Why in the hell would she. “I believe you. for the love of Ged. “Buddy. “It wasn’t much of a bomb. He smiled. and Eduardo left me to extract her while he quietly returned to his office to inspect the damage. like somebody had stomped on an inflated plastic bag for shock value.” I said.. Wish I could have helped you out more.. man. Seconds later he returned. anybody for that matter. The noise proved loud and sudden enough for Lisa to clutch my arm and screech her surprise. let’s not involve police. I felt her sharp nails retract from my flesh. want to do something like that? What did she fear that she felt the need to arm herself with a powder keg for a foot? Every time I thought I found a good step toward understanding this whole mess.. Please.” I exhaled. and handed over the charred remains of the leg.” Eduardo said. you have some really fucked up friends. The edges of the exploded end were singed black.” I really wanted to say.KATHRYN LIVELY We were at the door when a dull bang. “Everything’s fine.” 151 . “I-I’m really sorry. shaking his head.. didn’t look like whoever made it knew what he was doing to inflict some serious damage.

over to Fashion Avenue and all the way to Chelsea. Past Time Square. Ged knew I needed to 152 . Bohemia Central. Eduardo’s lady friend saw me hastily to the exit. That roiled in my gut all the way to West 23rd. when I happened to glance right to see the marquee of the Hotel Chelsea. I put one foot in front of the other and avoided eye and shoulder contact as much as possible. I left it as something to look forward to later. and paused only once for a squished McDonald’s cheeseburger. and God knows who else had been found in a room.DEAD BARCHETTA Chapter Fourteen We didn’t enjoy the pleasantry of a lengthy farewell. Sid stabbed Nancy. but not exactly a bucket list item. though at times the crowds on the sidewalks proved a challenge to avoid. suspicion and disdain evident in her darkened glare. but with my funds low I avoided the temptation of nicer eateries. I thought to make a detour but decided against it—as a landmark of cultural interest it was a place where I wouldn’t mind staying. My stomach growled. face down and lifeless in a pool of vomit and waning dignity. That Eduardo had agreed not to alert any authorities about the incident (it might have embarrassed him to know he’d triggered the device. yet I did spend much of my walk through Manhattan looking over the shoulder not weighed down by the bag. and he didn’t want word getting around) buoyed me somewhat. Famous novels and songs had been written there.

Maybe he could text while the talking heads droned on. And it hit me right then how far I had walked. yes. Chad lived in Chelsea. Why Chad didn’t spring for the Chelsea nagged at my mind for another city block. I took out my phone and expressed a note in lazyspeak: u hme yet? I idled on the stoop. and soldiered on to the next block. Chad’s text read equally as curt: waitn 4 sbwy whr r u? chls corner of 7th & 23rd A minute of silence. and I figured he might be stuck in another snorefest of a meeting. A hurtful theory. I paused at a stoop in between a gay bookstore and a convenient mart and tried Chad on the phone. The cheeseburger from earlier had long since worn off. I checked my maps function to get an idea of how much farther I had to go. everybody oblivious to the nervous kid with the fried artificial limb in his duffel bag. watching people enter and exit the shops. “Lerxst?” 153 . and I didn’t have far to go until I reached my hotel. Finally after about three minutes. I heard a sharp ping. I didn’t get a few feet past the bookstore’s display when one word froze me in place. then: go 2 htl will call whn I’m abv grnd Yes. sir. Having family who still lives at home and ekes out a living teaching the scales to lonely housewives isn’t really a bragging point. but I couldn’t blame my brother.KATHRYN LIVELY make that list long to maintain my optimism. Five rings led to his voicemail. and make plans to eat. and I assumed it had something to do with proximity and intrusion on his personal life. I couldn’t get away with this level of inconspicuousness in Virginia Beach. I plotted as simple a route as I could memorize and started walking.

blond. but stopped. He cradled a bulging grocery sack in one arm while the other hand curled around the handle of a reusable bag bearing the Whole Foods logo. 154 . it is you. “Sorry. This guy.DEAD BARCHETTA Not one I expected to hear in the middle of Manhattan uttered by a total stranger. “Uh. leaving me a few seconds’ head start if needed. I could have kept walking. given the course of the day’s events. and now I searched my memory for the few times I had come to New York and met some of Chad’s friends. He hadn’t been on the Chinatown bus that I remembered. I maintained the distance by inching back and bumping into a pair of old ladies. and dressed to blend in khaki shorts and a dark red t-shirt. “Oh my God. met me at a party. I can’t believe it. my curiosity proved too strong to fight that urge. well.” the guy said. I didn’t owe this man the truth. and would walk off after some idle chat. too. “Did you just get in? Where did you park? Were you looking for the apartment?” The questions shot with rapid precision that left me unable to speak. Yet. His expression mixed disbelief with pleasant surprise. and in the brief seconds we stared each other down I tried frantically to recall him. He was just somebody who knew Chad.” I began. Maybe my nerves had something to do with that. and if he had how would he know to call me Lerxst? Does a hit man normally address you before shooting? At least his hands were full. The less shared the better. taking one step closer. Chad didn’t say anything about you being in town. I turned in place to see a tall man—thin.” I muttered in their direction. He’d narrowed down the clues for me. increasing my pace with each step until achieving a mild run and weaving into a thicker crowd of people. still nothing.

flew in.” I lied. “Does Chad know you’re here? He hadn’t said anything this morning. One corner and a lengthy walk down a side street.” He smiled. He turned back and grinned. then wondered if that rainbow flag waving from the third floor balcony had always hung there.” Yep. Two-one-one-two. craning his neck and beckoning me to follow.” Then he started off in the opposite direction.” he warned. Good thing I bought extra risotto. “Excuse the mess you’re about to see. “Just a spontaneous visit. “Wonderful.” I said. sorry about that.” “Yeah. cashing in some flyer miles. Oh say. My new friend motioned to me with the Whole Foods bag. then. “Guess you could say this was a surprise…” I paused.” Do what? I fell in step behind the guy.. Right on time to eat. I recognized smaller landmarks and the two storefronts that framed the entranceway quickly. revealed that I had only overshot Chad’s place by a few blocks. can you see. Chad’s. I had a feeling we’d need it. The lock gave way loudly and we ambled into the small foyer and immediately up the stairs.KATHRYN LIVELY “I got in today. my guide chatting all the while. and I relieved him of the extra weight and watched him punch in the security code. “Terry. shall we say.. gentleman friend. **** I learned more about my brother in the five minutes it took for Terry to unpack the groceries than I had in my entire twenty-five years of existence. now more curious than concerned. “Could you?” he asked. “If I had known you were coming. Surprise. I wouldn’t have taken my time at the market. surprise. appeared to love talking as much as he 155 .

how’s your business going?” he asked. We’ll see a surge in registrations around September—I think people like to get all their schooling at once. then busied himself with boiling water for the risotto. I glanced at the refrigerator. Lucky me that I happened to catch him on one.” I chopped off both ends of the large. Terry explained that he ran his own catering business. Twice in the course of our conversation he slapped my hand to correct my poor onion cutting skills. and entertained enough high-end clients to permit more than his share of free days. He handed me a knife and an onion and assigned me a spot on the butcher’s block. Something about seeing that made it all official for me— when a potential mate makes the fridge door of fame. A matronly persona.” “Not really. I guessed. The chiding tone of his voice 156 . with kids off from school. “So. People go on vacation. much as I tried not to assign roles in my brother’s household. Keeping Chad fat and happy. kids do camps. Snapshots of my brother and Terry goofing and mugging and kissing in the foreground of various local landmarks littered the door. His words. looked like enough to feed six. “I imagine this is a busy time of year for you. therefore. I’d hazard a guess that Chad hit the lottery. Terry exuded a rather domestic air as he moved about preparing food. too.DEAD BARCHETTA did cooking. then wiped away some crackling skin. “Summer we slow down a bit. which is how I ended up as acting sous chef for the evening. Terry called all shots. pinned there by business card magnets of takeout joints.” Terry unwrapped a paper-swathed package to reveal several thick fish fillets. it’s serious. As far as same-sex partners go. One had to admit. pungent bulb. In the kitchen. though.

” “Beyond musical ability and specialized gardening. I figured the guitar for good therapy. “If you want.” I said. giving him the advantage.” I said. “You got any Jefferson Starship in that vast mental repertoire of yours?” Oh.” He looked 157 . “That’s fine. I did as requested and watched Terry slice the fruit in half. Terry shook his head. As my nerves heightened. but I’m sure she felt better having someone home to take care of things. Part of my job. and my stomach growled its assent.” It sounded dumb out loud. Take a stool. “Try again. Too bad you didn’t come up while your grandmother was away. but Jefferson Starship? Might as well request Van Hagar. no.KATHRYN LIVELY reminded me so much of Grandma that I teared up in frustration. but at least with the onion I kept busy around Terry and used my intense concentration to excuse myself from contributing to the conversation. I mean.” he said. “Been a while since I’ve had home cooking. their songs are simple enough to pick out. then crisscross the blade against the pulp with all the deftness of a skilled surgeon. I’ll guess you’ll didn’t inherit any skills from your grandmother.” I shook my head. So Chad had talked about us to this guy at one point.” “You poor thing. “Somehow. I enjoy the company without the distraction. With the kitchen as his fort. smiling. Good thing I had the onion as an alibi.” He laughed off the remark and reached for a mango. I could fill the time with a guitar serenade while you cook. what you’re making. hell no. I don’t mind handling everything. he’d survive an ambush easily. too. He already had the fish marinating and his share of the vegetables chopped when he carefully eased the knife from my hands. “Looks good. Terry arched an eyebrow at me. “I get the feeling you share your brother’s ineptitude for food prep.

but honestly I couldn’t tell how the man might perceive Chad’s slight omission of Terry’s gender when mentioning him to family. And in the dark. “Anyway.” I nodded. This looked bad. and I don’t like to stereotype.. probably not to anybody else. I’d only just met Terry. and he’s mentioned you a lot. He pushed on the rind and a grid of mango chunks toppled onto his chopping board. a habit when I sought to suppress the truth. Releasing it. “And Virginia Beach sounds like such a haven... Great. I know I’ve been ready for a good crab dinner for a while now.DEAD BARCHETTA up at me and winked. but narrowly escaping death twice in the space of a few days easily warped one’s perception. Lying came easier.. He appeared about to cut them into smaller pieces for salsa. you’re practically family. And has he mentioned that ‘Terry’ has a penis?” The blade of his knife now lowered in my direction. I wanted to kill Chad for leaving me such a disadvantage. yes. am I right?” “Huh?” The chopping stopped. “He did say he was seeing somebody named Terry. 158 . and right now I’m looking at that odd expression on your face and guessing Chad hasn’t said word one about me. I keep telling Chad he needs to take a break soon so we can come down and see you guys. the poker face not so much. Damn my transparency. too. I hope you’ll forgive me for going on and on. and maybe get to see your band.” “Uh-huh. I noticed Terry seemed to zero in on a spot just above my throat and I realized I bit my lip. He knew about her other hobby. I nodded slowly and said. It’s just that Chad’s told me all about you guys.

and I guess when I saw you earlier it hit me that he might have. and the probable ensuing freak out. I didn’t want to kick start a breakup.” I didn’t see Grandma flipping out over this. He said he intended to soon.” “I’m not mad.” “Actually.” All the while I thought of my brother. meeting you is one of the better things to have happened. He looked up and smiled. “Chad’s not ‘out’ at work. no stiffening of his shoulders as though he wanted to either veer off to another topic or start blubbering. I bet I scared the shit out of you when I called you out. “Please don’t be ticked off at my brother. There was no snippy tone to his voice. If only I had such perception. I should apologize. being our primary caregiver for years. the way my week’s being going. either. but we both realized eventually he’d have to say something to you and your grandmother.” “I’m sorry.” Terry snickered at that. so you know. and I saw no tears shining in his eyes. He kept his gaze focused and I counted a good sixty seconds of excruciating silence before I thought of something to say that didn’t seem trite. She might be irked that Chad felt the need to keep his sexuality a secret. Terry lifted the blade and resumed salsifying the mango and peppers.KATHRYN LIVELY As I weighed dashing toward the safety of the living room against gently easing the knife from the board. I told him it was his decision and that I wouldn’t influence him either way. It was enough I brought potential danger into his life. Then again. then scraped the fruit and veggie bits into a large bowl.” I believed him. “I understand completely why he didn’t tell you guys yet. Lerxst. perhaps she’d been aware all along. really. 159 . “No.

“You’re a sweetheart. Chad pausing just inside the doorway. Terry’s animated voice contrasted with Chad’s deep. One glance back at 160 . too. Chad. yes. “I’ll take a beer.” He grabbed a second bottle and ducked away without motioning for me to join him.” Terry was saying as Chad and I eyed each other. I’m not bugged by it at all. nor did I sense any tension pervade the small apartment. and I figured eavesdropping was impossible even if I wanted to try it. but I wasn’t quite ready for the visual demo. If Chad is happy then so am I.” he whispered just before flitting out to greet the rat racer. Chad looked drained entirely of pigment. though. Got halfway through Cream’s “Badge” when Terry glided back to the stove. he’s my brother. why don’t you and Lerxst relax in the living room? If you want I can fix up veggies and dip while you wait.” “Sure. and he literally walked from the Upper West Side. And he was home. No explosion sounded. “I’m good. He looked like he’d rather loop his fingers around the whole six pack and drag it with him. I waited in the kitchen and tried not to eavesdrop. thanks. He ain’t hetero. like he’d washed his face with bleach. I accepted that Chad was gay. Talk about pale.” I waved Terry’s offer away.” I meant it.DEAD BARCHETTA “Well. “I need to grill the tilapia and the risotto needs to cook some more.” Terry continued. “Lerxst kind of intimated it’s been a few hours since he ate. “Dinner’s going to take few minutes. still looking at my brother. So I sat there and drummed out a few beats on the butcher’s block. Terry wiped his hands on a towel before patting mine.” Terry cast a mother hennish smile in my direction while Chad reached into the fridge for a bottle of Bud. so you know. almost hushed tone—he sounded like rolling thunder.

He had ESPN on at just high enough a volume to discourage casual conversation. then. surprising myself with the sharp tone I projected. at the next commercial break he lifted the remote and muted the set. The only windows looked out onto the street. between Grandma 161 .” he said after a long pull from his bottle. it made sense that Chad could feasibly have kept this from me and Grandma for much longer. now he pled silently with me not to be angry at Chad. Wall to ceiling bookshelves nearly lined Chad’s living room. so for the next ten minutes or so we did nothing but drink beer and listen to overpaid announcers speculate on the free agency of overpaid athletes. “This wasn’t how I planned telling you. loud. “Yes. making it appear even smaller. Chad must have noticed the third or fourth wistful smile shot at him. Here I had asked him for help—I could have lied about my reason for coming to New York.” “You make it sound like a hit and run.” “Did you intend to at all?” I said. He sighed. Only if he drank both beers. and I’d asked him to lie for me. probably on the premise of hunting down some elusive. yet. “Never seemed to find the right time to do it. this aptitude for untruths. even. not just having to confirm his homosexuality but come clean about a relationship he’d kept from the family.” A weak smile. For all time. I wanted to be supportive. This must be genetic. too. Occasionally I’d see Terry dip in and out of view. exotic pepper that fell from the spice rack and rolled clear across the kitchen. and Chad and Terry had blocked the musty view with a large entertainment center that framed a plasma screen TV. “Terry said he ran into you on the street.KATHRYN LIVELY Terry revealed our intended roles had somehow reversed. I only imagined what Chad felt at this moment. the more I thought about it.

too. Terry’s a nice guy. he knows that.” “Dude. “You’re happy. She’s been jonesing for grandhippies for a while now. I didn’t figure this shit out until about a year ago anyway.” His gesture waved unspoken suggestions in my direction. Good for them for speaking out on what they believe in. don’t think I assumed you were going to turn all homophobe on me. the hints dropped like rain. I suppose I might have waited to tell Grandma. We don’t gig at Klan rallies.” Chad smiled. “What do I do that prevents you from saying two words out loud within my earshot? Is it the band?” He looked at me. I’m on that side of the fence.” Terry called. and appeared in the doorway again bearing plates of steaming fish and sides. whatever. I just prefer to sit them out for now.. crooking his neck toward our 162 . He nodded toward Chad. If he were a woman.” I held up my hands. man.DEAD BARCHETTA going off to Branson and you. “Me. “Come and get it. demanding equal rights.” he said. staring at the television. “Is it really anybody’s business who I live with. If any girl showed remote interest in us beyond a day. or just by Grandma?” Chad rolled his eyes. and when that epiphany happened it’s not like I barreled into the first gay bar I found with a raw steak around my neck. “Good.” That I understood. because I’m not. “I’m not ashamed to be seen with Terry. “Jesus. what?” I wanted to know. “Now. I’m happy. as expected.” “Look.” Made sense. Chad was Julia Johnston’s grandson. and I won’t fault anybody for wanting to march in a parade.” I gentled my voice.. and I thought yes. “How often have you been pressured to come out as straight?” “In general. “You know. all right?” His voice cracked. or sleep with?” Chad scrubbed a hand over his face. they deserve it. “At school I used to watch these groups hold their rallies.

” Terry murmured in my direction before heading back for more drinks. It occurred to me then perhaps I wasn’t the only one Chad worried about—what would his boyfriend think of his ne’er do well brother? Potential in-law material. Word.KATHRYN LIVELY left as he stepped deeper into the living room. Chad set up three folding trays. which I took to give Terry and Chad some togetherness.” I took one plate and it on a stack of magazines on the coffee table. I’ll get that. or an almost certain permanent fixture on the couch who dispensed a meager share of rent only when badgered to do so? Terry’s smile when he returned relaxed me. “So polite. “Chad.” he said. 163 . could you get the dinner trays out?” “Here. two across the couch and one at the recliner. “I think we’re going to get along great.

He stood and approached Terry with his hands out in what I suspected to be a proactively soothing gesture. “Oh. I could almost sync their voices over the two sports analysts we watched.” I said. looking back at Chad. while Terry held a different opinion. with more time spent eating than prying into personal lives. Terry cleared all the plates and suggested I dress down for the night. With dinner done and the promise of chocolate chip cookies later.. however. There were a few close calls. who appeared to read my mind.DEAD BARCHETTA Chapter Fifteen Dinner passed the way I’d hoped. yet still managed to argue the politics of trades and games without devolving into a pair of nattering hens. “When did you call for a hotel without my hearing it in this sardine can of an apartment?” “Actually. with valid points to support it. yeah.” “Hotel?” Terry dipped halfway into the living room. I noticed over the course of the meal Chad and his gentleman friend shared a loyalty for the same sports teams. wielding a shining spatula sticky with crumbs. my brother has always contended that Lance doped. “I should be getting back to my hotel.. Listening to the two volley opinions over the television noise. I don’t want to take up your whole night. That’s when I realized the time. 164 .” Chad’s gravel deep cough shattered my train of thought.

brought in the funk. I see. “The room’s been charged. and you guys need your privacy. “It’s that Holiday Inn in Chinatown. where he already had the phone pinned to his ear. like we’d have the chance to rebut. “I want to think you’re as much my brother as Chad’s.” “Good.” Terry’s face softened and he nodded slowly. Now there’s no longer a need to spend the money...” Another curt nod from Terry settled the deal. I didn’t want to know. given the lateness of the hour and the rough ride he had on the bus.” Terry’s eyebrows shot upward and about touched his hairline. he wouldn’t want to spend his first night in our noisy neighborhood. had a rough week. in the back with the body.” Chad began. I might as well have been back in the room. and I noticed how reluctant he sounded to comply. “I figured. that’s why it’s there.” So did I. and I don’t banish family to hotels. “He was tired.” “And you need your family. How much noise he’d planned for tonight. “So that’s the other reason why you’d slipped out. with these paper thin walls.” I followed him into the kitchen. “Terry. “Well. why didn’t he come over Sunday night?” Terry didn’t look at me as he asked this.KATHRYN LIVELY “I got Lerxst a room in Chinatown Saturday night. and he demanded the name of the hotel. The look of horror paling his face said I might as well have hitched a ride in a hearse... I’m okay. really. “.” he said.. Terry knew exactly who brought in the noise. I didn’t see a reason to move him just yet. Chad shrugged.” he cut in. and I pinched my eyes shut for a second and conjured an image of Megan Fox naked to expel the other vision that Chad’s words suggested..” 165 . He can have the spare room.

No such luck. and I nearly tripped myself up following him. I edged a bit closer to hear Grandma. The graying tone of the “ohs” and “uh-huhs” panged my heart. “Let’s just say I know how to get things done around here.” he chirped. I’ll have fresh towels for you in a jif.” Terry winked. but Ged only knew who listened in on the call. 166 . some guy with headphones in the corner scanning a laptop to pick out the white noise on Chad’s end.” He took off speedwalking. I wanted to grab the BlackBerry from Chad and let her know I was okay.DEAD BARCHETTA No point in arguing that. but Chad drifted to one side and eventually turned his back to concentrate on talking with her. where I found Chad on his phone—probably warning off the clerk at the Holiday Inn. “You are officially checked out with no extra charge to Chad’s credit card. Chad flashed me a grim. The other end clicked and up went the finger. “All settled. “Did you try Jack. Hell.” he was saying. I pictured cops and men in suits crowding the kitchen table. small smile.” “No kidding? How did you swing that? Usually a hotel will charge you the full amount regardless. weighted down with the phone to his ear. he still hasn’t called. to see if he indeed lied about not hearing from me. and your room is the first door down the back hallway on the right. Based on the sporadic “uh-huhs” and “I sees” I gathered she had little good news to share from home. or even Pam?” Shit. and I escaped into the kitchen just as Terry rang off his end. so I merely slinked back into the living room. and I grasped my bag and dove into the room I presumed the two shared. “No. they could have worked it into the show. Terry signaled for my silence. We passed my morose brother. does that kind of equipment exist? Maybe if it had in the days of Code Blue.

I dropped the bag and fell back against the bed.KATHRYN LIVELY One bed. and I realized he was the sweetie Terry addressed.” “Must be nice to make a phone call and have all your problems solved so quickly. Before I began contemplating which side was Chad’s. I start catering for the real Lerxst and we’ll never get rid of you.. “Right. Terry had plucked two thick bath towels from the master bath and guided me to my quarters. he’s deader than Diane. One bureau. Try again. surprised I didn’t immediately bounce back upright for its stiffness. We could be a package deal.” I smiled.” “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. “There’s always Canada. “It’s not like I can influence legislation. All of the plaques and pennants won in school hung on the walls. Arms folded and jaw set.” I detected a note of melancholy there. “Yeah.” he said. colognes. Here had been banished Chad’s life through UVA. cufflinks. No further explanation required. “Everything okay.” Chad stood in the doorway. two sets of everything: combs. Terry shrugged. dinner and a show. and they’re even better to me. Terry snorted. is the loyalty. and Chad’s saxophone rested in the corner nearest the lone twin bed bearing Chad’s old body pillow with a Cavaliers logo.” I said. “One advantage to being a caterer to the rich and famous. sweetie?” “Sure. I just need to. neat with dark blue sheets.” Who among Terry’s fashionista trust fund babies could get me out of a possible murder rap? Those chicks with the reality show whose dad defended OJ Simpson? Nope. “I feed people well.. he 167 .” Terry let out a tired sigh and turned his head. yet. Terry set down the towels on the foot of the mattress.

Above the fold on the Virginian-Pilot’s website. Chad called up a browser and handed me the computer to find my own way to a Virginia Beach news outlet.” Yet I wondered who else was staying with Grandma right now. “Search for Missing Musician Continues.” “Okay. leaving me to my brother’s mercy. I read how local authorities had treated the death of a young woman found in my studio as a suicide.” He leaned over to the laptop and swiped his fingers over the tracker pad.?” Chad nodded. I saw a small picture of the other Matt Johnston—the open mic fan from Friday. “What’s going on over there?” I asked. I promise. That’s why Grandma’s so out of sorts right now. Nobody is looking for me for questioning?” “Oh. too. and they don’t know what to do to find out if you’re still alive. and that her tentative connection to the other Johnston and me led 168 ..DEAD BARCHETTA stared the two of us down like a stern dad catching his kids up past lights out.. Chad quietly closed us in and leaned against the door. First thought was something had happened to you. “Jack found her. I’ll think of a way to get in touch. see for yourself.” “So.” he said. I’m sorry.. “You need to call Grandma and let her know what’s going on. The screen illuminated with a nature shot of some bright green lea dotted with trees and Windows icons. Jerry’s been staying over there. people are looking all right. “Did they find. “I need to clean up in the kitchen. but they found your note. Grandma said. Terry eased past him into the hallway. Still is..” Once I cleared an annoying landing page ad for the Lynnhaven Mall. his lips pulled tightly in a straight line. “She hasn’t slept at all since you disappeared. to my dismay—which teased an article.” he said by way of graceful exit. Your picture was all over the news.

and perched on the bed. or selling you a ticket on the Chinatown express. but making a plane or bus reservation in my name might lead to some do-gooder Law and Order fiend to drop a dime on me. Put me in a nice safe jail cell where I can’t get out. I suppose. They couldn’t at least get that right?” Chad shrugged. and eventually somebody is going to remember seeing you. yet I knew all the same what to expect him to say. and imagined him slouched on a cold. “And I’m the coowner. “I’m sure the cops have checked out all the bus depots in Norfolk and the beach. Anybody seeing this will have a time picking you out of a crowd. the search for Matthew Luke Johnston. Meanwhile.” Chad said. graduate of First Colonial High School and full-time tutor at Beach Music Masters. “You want me to go home.” I muttered. either. Uh-huh. metal chair in a gray interrogation room. remained active merely to ensure his safety. “The missing dork. I don’t look enough like Chad to swipe his ID and pass off as him.” True. and you’ve lost some weight since then. so they went with what they could find. “What other options are there?” he posed. “So you know.” Partly true. “I told him you were taking a break from a bad split with a girl. your hair was pulled back in that photo. they used my doofus tuxedo bib senior class photo in the article. hence her suicide as a means of escaping the authorities. not just a tutor. Wouldn’t you know. I see 169 . Yah.KATHRYN LIVELY some to suspect her guilt in his death. “Grandma wouldn’t cooperate with the press with any info. don’t you?” I couldn’t read Chad at this point. and I guess they couldn’t access your Facebook profile for a recent picture.” I thought of Han. Look at it this way. Terry doesn’t know the real reason you’re here. too.

though..” “And I’m sure the cops have anticipated that possibility and sent warnings to every border station from here to the Yukon. I should be blessed to command such loyalty.” “You know I always have your back.” Deuce. Canada is closer. The subways would only take me so far. but how will I know you won’t end up taking it to Mexico?” “Because Mexican food tears up my stomach lining. guided me away from further entertaining a cross-continent excursion. give me tonight. how far could a guy like me get? “Bro.” I said. unless I had a car. knowing you got my back. “Well. perhaps a Chinatown bus headed for Boston might let me slide without flashing credentials if I paid cash. 170 .” Chad clapped my shoulder. “but the idea you need to get in your head is figuring out which is the best way to go home. “I could rent a car. looking at Chad. Plausibly. Lerxst.DEAD BARCHETTA Tom Sawyer. I looked around the windowless room. and I’ll have a good idea of what to do in the morning. with all these satellites and people Twittering Amber Alerts.. “Maybe I’ll sleep better here. Anyway.” I smiled. Good luck on that trail. I guess that precludes slipping back into Virginia Beach unnoticed. He hop big-ass spaceship to heart of Cygnus.” “Then the best way is you driving me. please?” I asked of Chad. “Everybody wants to see a driver’s license before they’ll let you go anywhere. Seeing my brother’s face.” Chad bounced a bit on the bed before rising. seeing no other options for escape. “and bringing Terry along to meet her.” Chad sighed. I don’t like lying to Grandma. and the pained expression that was surely magnified on my grandmother’s.

one Emil Samaranch.” “Fine. According to one sidebar on the website. Schooled at Fordham. Well. A Google search for “Matt Johnston Virginia” yielded nothing I didn’t already know about me and my unfortunate name twin. and for some reason my mind conjured an image of John Travolta’s older brother from Saturday Night Fever. so maybe I’ll see you for breakfast.” Making that his goodnight. Chad left the room and closed the door behind him. Over the next hour or so. with studies at the Vatican. had once served as a Jesuit priest in an affluent Connecticut parish. I found no pictures of him. For kicks I delved a bit further into searching information on the International Harmony Church and clicked through to a cult-watch website listing practically every celebrity involved since its inception. his parishioners had been scandalized enough to hear constant anti- 171 . on the outset he appeared much like the dream son any devout Catholic mother desired. From the available material I found online. In 1971. We’re up early. I want to look up some stuff.KATHRYN LIVELY Chad’s lip quirked up at one corner. mainly bouncing from entry to entry on Wikipedia in a vain attempt to connect fake Diane’s recent activities with Alan Peterson’s life. highly displayed photo in the dining room. and how the mother in the that movie always made the sign of the cross every time she walked past his nicely framed. he decided to charter his own plan for eternal salvation—one that apparently permitted him to drop acid and screw hot hippie chicks without the inconvenience of good old fashioned Catholic guilt. I guess Emil wanted some of that holy action for himself. after about ten years of preaching somebody else’s gospel. Interesting group. You need anything else?” “Just the laptop. I played six degrees of separation on the Internet. this IHC. I learned that its founder. though. “I’m going to watch TV with Terry.

Interesting. all the while hyping up their brand of worship. one eventually makes a decision based on the preference of a beloved hero. and manners. Father Emil fled high society in a VW bus with a blonde babe named Justine–whose Playboy cover shot I found halfway down the web page—and set up shop in the East Village. Holy fuck. At the end of the day.DEAD BARCHETTA Vietnam sentiment in the pulpit. they lived at the Chelsea for a time. by his untimely death at the age of fifty-eight in 1987. Made sense to me. Not even a Twitter account. the IHC could claim nearly two million followers worldwide. his successors in faith who now had access to the collection baskets—to mutual benefit. Emil’s merry band of believers picketed political rallies and dodged tear gas. Why else do I own an ES-355? St. and cooking with hashish. pray for us. Even the Scientologists are wired. Grandma’s favorite writer. but the day Father Emil showed up for Mass wearing no pants under his alb proved the final straw. though. The remainder of Emil’s bio read like a treatment for a film adaptation of a Kinky Friedman novel. the guy had struck a chord with some people. to note this group didn’t even have an official website for recruitment. really a hybrid of tree-hugging and Greek mythology. Beside each name I saw an approximate date the person joined the cult. 172 . Whoever compiled this data had done his homework. then. Despite the seeming absurdity of his teachings. Lerxst. Too bad he wasn’t there to lay hands on Nancy before Sid did. Rather than report to some diocesan detention for a refresher course in the catechism. Weird. then returned to the celebrity list. along with supplemental information on how that particular celeb promoted the work of Emil— rather. based on a song by Jimmy Buffett. I opened a new browser tab to double check.

“These are yours. “You are really spoiling me here.. and I suppose I did by default when I sat with her in the living room with my laptop. “If you’re trying to keep me from leaving. TV commercial quality chocolate chip cookies. I knew that name. all explained away by the celebrity’s youthful naïveté or “research” for a role. The latch clicked. just barely reaching the threshold. Terry appeared in the doorway bearing a tray.” He set the tray on the nightstand. Grandma watched it. but I couldn’t pinpoint why. Anything else I can get you before I turn in?” 173 . District Nine filmed in New York.” The cookies were large and thick. and loaded with chips. A few surprises. Obviously. and a dull roar from a televised sports crowd sounded in the distance. I folded the laptop shut and scooted forward. Chad’s batch is still cooling. and. Good Ged.” He brought the tray forward to offer a plate of perfectly browned. she was famous. I’m a born domestic. you’re doing a good job. scaring the crap out of me.. Alan Peterson’s listing in this who’s who offered few news items—no mention of kids born into the “faith”. Lana Buxton. a tall glass of white milk glowed in the dim recess of the hallway.KATHRYN LIVELY Some names I recognized easily—various film stars already known for far out antics and beliefs. A quick Google search jarred my memory: Lana currently had a show—another prime time cop soap—playing the ubiquitous tough as nails DA.” he said. for a short while. Terry flashed an apologetic smile. putting that hospitality degree to good use. “I didn’t want to interrupt. Wonder of wonders. just the trivia tidbit that he had managed to recruit a co-star. as it were. “Sue me.” Terry laughed. they smelled twice as good as they looked. “but I saw the light underneath the door. The first bite melted warm chocolate in my mouth and nearly sent me into sugar shock. too.

Not the one I deal with when it’s time to settle the bill. and before I forget there is a spare key in the 174 . I’m going to assume. but she is one of the celeb spokespeople for this charity. though. need help with this gig?” “You mean music?” Terry frowned. “Don’t know how well the 2112 Overture will play that early. “Actually. “Not personally. When I heard Laura Buxton mentioned my heart stopped. Hearts that only beat a few times a minute don’t need the stress. “I know where I can get them.” They should meet my grandmother.” He understood the remark. Early to bed at eight-fifteen seemed a bit extreme to me. and started for the door. “I could certainly use the help with clean up. and I like to earn my keep.” “Well. Oh. Instead he just patted my knee and started toward the door. “You. figuring the sugar might boost my courage. sure. I’ll knock for you. reciting a litany of who was who in prime time television. too. “I’ll have something laid out for you on the sofa when you wake up.” I took another cookie. “Early call tomorrow. as though trying to decide if he should hug me. catering a breakfast in Midtown. It’s gonna be mainly a bunch of old ladies at this event. we leave out at the ass crack of dawn. “Do you know her?” Terry must have thought I harbored a celebrity crush with the way my eyes widened.” I thought of Chad’s bulging closet. If you don’t mind volunteering. His lips curled upward in a bemused smile. no.” He proceeded to drop names with practiced abandon.DEAD BARCHETTA “This early?” I glanced at the corner screen of the laptop. uh. I thought you could use an extra busboy or pair of hands to break down any workspace. you didn’t pack a suit shirt and slacks. how sweet of you to offer!” He shifted in place. I had no sightseeing plans tomorrow.

I tapped it awake and called up Google Search. Deep voices conversed. including one happening tonight at Henrietta Hudson. See ya. I counted the footfalls until a distant door clicked. I clicked through to the official site of the all-girl band Lazy Mae to see a design similar to the one I found on Diane’s laptop. I waited a bit and watched the closed door. I’d still be way early if I left now. weary and comforting of each other. Luckily I didn’t have to scroll down too far to find what I wanted. Diane Havoc Nearly two million results appeared in point two-five seconds.” Because like hell we needed to start next morning with me breaching the sanctity of their shared quarters. Pulling the laptop back across my legs. then. Above a montage of action shots on stage and a posed photo of the quartet—Diane hugging her Rick—a scrolling marquee listed current gig dates. according to the first page. asking about kitchen privileges. “Don’t feel like you need to wait around for either of us to get in and out. Or. and discovered that not only would Lazy Mae perform later in the evening as part of a “Totally 80s” 175 . The site listed no time. and our security code for downstairs is—” I held up a hand. as the sliver of light visible at the bottom extinguished. I typed in two words. then give Diane about an hour to get to the gig and set up.” “Good enough. “That I figured out.. I looked up the Henrietta Hudson for directions to see if I could hoof it.KATHRYN LIVELY candy dish on the shelf by the door.. but figuring Mamma Mia started at seven and ran about two and a half hours. curious to see where the Internet took me.” Terry laughed. Early night in all around.

I don’t get to too many of those. After a few seconds. I looked down at Chad’s jeans and my ragged t-shirt and doubted this could pass for the nice casual they expected. and slipped away into Chelsea. Bingo. I tiptoed through the darkened apartment. felt my way to the candy dish for the key. Checking Chad’s desk. Had Chad and Terry fallen asleep yet? Did I want to knock and find out differently? I set aside the laptop and checked the closet.DEAD BARCHETTA tribute party. If she brought the Rick to play tonight. and shrugged. but Henrietta could be quite selective at the door…of her Sapphic sanctum. and of the possibility that she enjoyed more than a few perks while performing at the club. Lesbian bar. His dark eyes appraised me in the rear view mirror. and not just the winter stuff tucked away for later. Wallet transferred to my new pants.” I told the turbaned driver. With the bar being too far to walk—safely. “Don’t expect to get lucky there. I found a pair of beige slacks that fit. along with a red Polo.” he said. in my opinion—I hailed a cab and hoped to Ged I could swing the fare and cover. clothes spillover. I grabbed a rubber band to tie back my hair. but reading through Henrietta’s website I noticed they didn’t discriminate so long as you had the cover and dressed respectably. He said nothing at first. I thought of Diane. but pushed forward into traffic with a jerk. he said. and I made a quick change. “Henrietta Hudson. 176 . I’d consider the time spent getting there worth it.

“We’ll be lucky if they get on before eleventhirty. such displays of public affection. considering I appeared to be the only man here at the moment.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Sixteen Henrietta Hudson looked to me no different than the typical nightclub. In a straight bar. The bartender— stout. finally. Oddly enough. “Shows start later than advertised usually. I looked around to find no evidence of Diane or any other musicians setting up.” Translation: get comfortable and get used to Janet and flashing strobes shooting pink triangles all over the place. which 177 . whether genuine or staged. I found the bar and ordered a beer. After a few seconds. even with the smattering of paired-off females snuggling and/or kissing at the back tables and the bar.” she hollered back. crew cut dyed red. “Do you know when Lazy Mae goes on?” I had to repeat it as the speaker volume above us suddenly cranked higher. it’s done mainly for shock value and to crank up the testosterone level in the house. she reached down for a bottled of Bud and popped it open. I garnered few stares. though. I lifted my bottle in thanks and sought refuge in the darkest corner I could find. and figured she was still en route. A bizarre dance mix of Janet Jackson’s “Control” rattled my brain. don’t faze me much—I’m not a gawker. I handed her a five. and I hoped that would help reduce any attention to myself. and a bar pierced through the top of her left ear—eyed me as though trying to decide whether or not to card me.

” That threw him for a second. not my forte. one a dewy replica of my own. help me. in the aftermath of a few bolts of liquid courage. I bummed a pen from a passing waitress after ordering a refill and composed away on a bar napkin. If anything.” I nodded and tried not to sound too encouraging. I just wanted to see Diane play.DEAD BARCHETTA buoyed my spirits. “I’m Craig. were never discouraged from forming.” Dear Ged.” he said. “Oh. and extended it toward me. and I looked up to greet the shadow. Despite the situation surrounding our introduction. regardless of the intent of the benefactor. “The smile looks pretty good. too. and shrugged. funny. He held two bottles. but everything I ran through my head sounded utterly stupid.” he said. “Not bad. no doubt. A few seconds into the second verse the room darkened. but it is difficult to turn down free beer. and I couldn’t say how she might react on seeing me. which he waved at me in a light tease. “I’ve been standing at the bar for the last five minutes trying to come up with a witty and original and endearing introduction. An awkward scene for me. Terrific. I hadn’t planned to make myself known during the show. yes.” 178 . A dark-haired man with eyes glazed smiled down. then he glanced at the Bud and laughed. sitting here in the dark covertly watching lesbians dance and shoot pool might give me time to decide if approaching her was a good idea at all. I felt I owed it to her to support her in some way. For some reason the scene inspired a few potential song lyrics while. “So I figured I’d have a better shot at the empty chair next to you if I brought an offering and flashed a really pathetic and lonely smile. like this one. and nobody knows more than me how much it means to a band to have people come out and hear you.

though. they’d serve as a nice distraction if the conversation lulled. “and before we get to trading Zodiac signs I should warn you.” Craig pouted..” Talk faster. “I am flattered. “Stella Artois. which he took and maintained at a respectable distance. 179 . Of course. leggy blonde as well and hastily ordered the deluxe nachos before she could get away. “Got it.” I said and shook the beer and part of his damp curled hand in greeting. “You sure?” he posed. looking fairly inquisitive and hopeful. At best. I did recently break up. Should have known—a guy as good looking as you doesn’t last long unattached. my conscience urged. “Because that sounds more like a challenge to me than a polite invitation. since the waitress never did come back with the second beer I ordered.” I shrugged. I came to hear the band. a drink for a drink.” He turned his head.” I snagged a paper menu of late night munchies from the tall.” Might as well.. “. you’re taken. and a good obstacle in the event Craig did think of something endearing to say after a few more Stellas. shit.. that’s completely unrelated to why I’m here.” Craig tipped up the bottle and drained the last of it.. shit.” “Well. flagging down a different waitress. considering I’ve only just finished the one beer.” “Interesting. as though expecting some diesel truck of a jealous boyfriend to come charging through the throng of grinding lesbians on the dance floor. “What’s that you’re drinking?” I asked..with my girlfriend.” I waved Craig to the vacant chair next to me. “Not exactly.. and you don’t have to go. Let me at least pay you back. “Oh. Craig’s head snapped back.KATHRYN LIVELY “Matt.” The fake pathetic smile fell. “I suppose I can walk away gracefully with the assurance that it’s not me. Craig raised an eyebrow at me. I figured.

To think most guys probably gave more thought to what.” Craig paused when his refill arrived. Diane’s a sweetheart.” If you considered more than six hours a while. However… “So.” Craig waved my apprehension away with his free hand. it wasn’t a complete lie.” “Eh. She wails on that bass. chicken and cheese. you see all kinds here on 80s Night. Craig howled at that. “Yesssss?” “Are they…” How to word this so I don’t sound crass? “Taken?” Craig chuckled. “Especially in lesbian bars. or how little. From there Craig and I rapped about 180 . however. the band might wear. and basically assumed the lead vocals after their original singer bailed on a gig one night. too.” I said. This may be a lesbian bar.” I told him.” I thought about the Rick from her apartment. I’m here trolling for guys. Lazy Mae rocks.” “Great. Are they. Our waitress returned shortly bearing a platter loaded down with an avalanching mound of tortilla chips. they’re all unattached. I’ve been looking forward to seeing them live for a while. “Do you know them?” “In passing. “Far as I know. uh…?” The corner of Craig’s mouth lifted. Don’t ask me whom they attach to. and wondered if it would make an appearance tonight. and he seemed to enjoyed my sudden flustering. but it apparently doesn’t define everybody who walks in. I’m an interesting breed. for Christ’s sake!” “I guess it would make a funny story to tell the grandchildren of your artificially inseminated son. “How she hasn’t ended up with a record deal or with a higher profile group is beyond me. I don’t know too much about them.DEAD BARCHETTA “I’m not much for watching shows alone. mainly through friends. Kelly used to work here. and I chose to attribute his enthusiasm for the lame joke to the Stella Artois. “And I do commend you on your good taste.

and slapped the table in frustration when I saw a very feminine redhead in a high-cut miniskirt beeline toward some six-pack in a Polo shirt and plunge her tongue down his throat. I correctly guessed two of them. and waved it between two pinched fingers. covering pretty much every topic from the gay scene in New York to music. straightened it. Did I mention we played for money? “Wait. but I’d found a new hobby to occupy my attentions until Diane showed— testing my “gaydar. Mae. we saw still no sign of setup. and by the third round I’d become his new best straight friend for-evah! With less than thirty minutes before Lazy Mae’s appointed gig time. 181 . I found him a pleasant enough table companion.” Craig screwed up his face. Damn.” Craig pointed out solo bar patrons at random.KATHRYN LIVELY everything and nothing. Maybe they’re both bi?” “Do I get fifty cents back if we can prove it?” Craig scooped up the bill. making it more of a challenge to find a needle in the lesbian stack. the dance floor filled to capacity. “That could be an extra butchy butch. Based upon the eventual pairing off a few subjects.” “No way. Why not try one more and win this back?” I checked my watch. Meanwhile. “That’s gotta be a dude. leaving me to theorize on their sexual orientations. “So he is. wait. Eleven forty-five and still no Diane. I can see the stubble from here when the white strobe hits ‘em right.” I muttered. or any clue that something other than sped-up Cyndi Lauper tunes would be heard tonight.” I shook my head.” Craig pitched the wadded-up bill on the table. As I suggested calling an end to the pop quiz Craig pointed out a figure dancing alone on the fringe of the crowd. and crumpled a dollar in Craig’s palm. “You were doing good there. “Damn. Despite his near one-eighty tastes in tunes as compared to mine.

” Craig picked at the label on his latest empty. before Craig could prod me to guess which side of the fence she likely grazed. you know. “You know her. For a straight guy.” I said. Lana blew the woman a kiss before returning to her dance. It didn’t look like her.” Same could be said of her sexual preference. definitely. tired. I watched with Craig as she swiveled her hips to the beat and moved with eyes closed to let the music guide her.” “No shit?” What were the odds of that? Honestly. Craig snorted. you seem to have a 182 . “Sucks if it’s true. “Movie role?” “Word on the street is cancer. Her people have done a good job of keeping it quiet. with the way things seems to fall from the sky. and slim in low-waisted jeans and a tight blue blouse with rolled up cuffs. She wore her brown hair extremely short. A pair joined at the sides walked past and one of them lingered a hand over Lana’s collarbone and caressed her cheek. blonde hair that cascaded halfway down her back and swirled in wide arcs in slow motion dramatic climaxes. though. She turned fully our way and I realized Craig was right. Of course. “I may be social but I’m hardly popular. I had to believe in God or some kind of deity now. “I know a lot of straight women who look like that. “What’s with the haircut?” I wondered aloud.DEAD BARCHETTA Female. too?” I nodded toward her. so close to her skull one might think the hair was growing back after a long bout with chemotherapy. Lana Buxton on TV had long. close to my ear. “That’s Lana Buxton.” “No…you know who that is?” he said. or wander into gay bars I happened to visit at the time. for all I knew this was all public knowledge—I don’t read the gossip websites and have no memory of Lana’s face on a tabloid at the grocery checkout. “I couldn’t tell you.

My admiration for her ratcheted up a notch. along with my nerves. then widened quickly in recognizance. I didn’t say anything more. Too bad he’s taken. My. “Huh? Oh.” I grabbed a dry taco chip and scooped up a dollop of refried beans and chicken bits. I dunno. brushing away a lock of hair as she lugged an amp case into view. Craig’s eyes narrowed again. “So what’s this gig and where can I go to crash it?” Craig was asking as he nudged my shoulder.” How that might help with cancer treatment was. out of the corner of my eye I noticed a group attempting to annex part of the dance floor. “he’s more your type than I am. “He showed me a few pictures of you at a party a few weeks back. Just thought it was a bit past her bedtime if she had to be up early.” Had to laugh at that. She hadn’t noticed me. “Excuse me?” “You’re Chad Johnston’s brother. and as Diane conversed with them. I recognized Diane right away. “No.” The mood around me calmed somewhat. her doctor’s worry. presumably about where to position everything. No telling what she’d do or say if she did.” he said. aren’t you?” He broke into a grin. just visiting my brother. My blood ran cold. “Midtown somewhere. far as I knew. uh. I could tell she appeared tired but determined to see the night through to completion.” I said.KATHRYN LIVELY misguided sense of what makes for the perfect pickup joint.” “I guess. no wonder I felt 183 . she’ll pop a five-hour energy shot and show up fresh as a daisy. Oh my God. brother’s partner is catering this breakfast gig tomorrow morning and Lana’s supposed to keynote. I’m not interested in that way. I suppose. Behind her two more women hauled in the drum set. “Chad. I’m not local.” “Eh.

” Okay.” “That’s right. “Jesus. that sort of answered how good a friend Craig was to my brother. Regardless of whom he dated or lived with. I wanted him happy and free of hurt. All around us lesbians reached for each other and swayed in clutched pairs. maybe.” he grinned. though. hang out in the same circle of friends.” The way Craig’s voice changed. “I always thought Chad was cute.” I said. too. another familial gesture like Terry had offered earlier.” His hand came down on my knee.” I corrected. I got to admit. If Chad felt it necessary to hide his relationship from family. but part of me wanted to know more. told me even Craig didn’t sound convinced of it. We go the same gym. How long have you known my brother? You work with him?” I couldn’t deny the guy was acquainted with Chad. “He’s a very good friend of mine. “Yeah. but is he a good guy. you know. READ ME! I HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS! He shook his head. It happens. this entire exile had been marked by so many weird coincidences that I had to wonder if certain forces had come into play to guide me along. a ballad I didn’t immediately recognize. indeed. you think? No baggage or drama?” 184 . “So you’re helping Terry out tomorrow morning. “and he is?” The music shifted to a lower volume. Jealousy.” “I am. I assume. since I never mentioned my brother’s name. “What do you think of him? Terry. “Terry’s cool. I had angels everywhere. it’s been a few years now. Still. All I needed now was to glance at a newspaper dispenser and see the headline LERXST.DEAD BARCHETTA compelled to come over here. he seemed less likely to do so with friends in the loop. Craig cast his gaze down and about blushed.

and turned quietly back to face me.” Craig shrugged. I nixed an offer for another beer.” She warmed up to that.” 185 . I hoped to dissuade that feeling. “Miss Buxton?” Lana Buxton squealed to a halt in her rubber-soled shoes. My mouth. and ran smack dab into Miss Lana Buxton as she exited the door marked Ladies. Nodding my thanks. “If my grandmother were here. continued to ramble on ahead of my brain. If she suspected this encounter would end up in a blind item in the New York Post.” Bake all the cookies you want—you hurt family. Grandma won’t take kindly to it. I-I just wanted to say how much I enjoy District Nine. for damn sure. This isn’t her kind of place. if that’s what you’re getting at. please. and backed against the wall to let her pass.” I said. “I’m always glad for the feedback.” “Yeah.” “Pity. she’d say a lot more. “Oh. Seniors don’t pay cover. “I don’t think he’s going to fuck around on Chad. “Sorry. and decided it time to relieve myself of what I had already consumed. you’ll get hurt.” I mumbled. thank you so much.KATHRYN LIVELY “None I can tell. and nodded. as though she hadn’t expected to be recognized or addressed here. I stood and wobbled slightly toward a steady balance. “My grandmother and I never miss an episode. more like worried. Just don’t quiz me on plot points. however.” “He better not. washed up. “My name is Matt Johnston.” she said. She didn’t look annoyed.” The wall felt sticky and cold against my shoulder. and before I could embarrass myself by asking a passerby if the place had a men’s room our waitress instinctively approached and pointed the way. I made it to perhaps the cleanest nightclub restroom I’d ever used without incident.

before my brain could catch up.DEAD BARCHETTA “I’ll let her know then. I know it’s been a few years. that’s okay. “I heard about what happened to him. “He never married. if I weren’t making it up along the way.” She frowned at that. though. Look.” I felt like an idiot as I waved her into the flash lights and thrashing lesbians. but you sort of worked with my father. just who the hell were you? “I could have sworn he had a daughter. “I don’t know if you remember. He found a better career after that. chase her down and tackle her? What possessed me to quiz Lana Buxton in the first place? In a way. “On Code Blue. Dad worked stunts until he blew out his knee. but didn’t know where to send any condolences. 186 . What was I supposed to do now. “Eh. Alan Peterson?” Bingo. “I need to get going. “Anyway. I’m sorry to hear that. too. I would have.” “You’re thinking of somebody else. not so subtly this time. Thanks for the kind words.” Lana cut me off. Mentally she checked her watch while I conjured scenarios of an imaginary father pretending to take a booted foot from Chuck Norris in the face. she wasn’t. careful to watch her reaction. I was glad for the time. I added.” “No?” Fake Diane.” “Oh.” No.” Then. I was a kid then. acting as though pulled magnetically back into the club. bye. Goodbye. Her body shifted a few inches.” “Sure.” Lana eased away. Your co-star on that show helped us out a bit. but it left me with even more questions. but I’d still like to pass on my thanks to his family…” “Alan didn’t have a family.” I continued. Lana’s gaze swept back to me and she shivered despite the broiling heat enveloping us.

“What did you say to her?” she demanded. If you don’t want stalkers. clearly unconvinced. too. I could tell. she screwed her lips tight until the temptation passed.” She wanted to laugh. “So you’ve been reading up on Alan Peterson. A sharp tap touched down on my shoulder and I jumped from the shock and the stinging pain. looking at everything in the hallway but me. don’t post your gigs on the Internet. I didn’t know Lana Buxton would be here. “What are you doing here?” Her voice turned weary. don’t I? My being here probably makes as much sense as Dubya competing against Stephen Hawking on Jeopardy. sneaking up on people like that?” Diane folded her arms.” It took a few seconds to register that Diane had done some digging of her own. almost threatening. then?” She stepped forward. what makes you think. “Are you stalking me?” “I wanted to hear you play.KATHRYN LIVELY What was it about this Alan Peterson guy that turned women weird? One possessed a loyalty to him that compelled her to attempt murder. “You’re not here to bug Lana about your cult girlfriend?” “For one thing.. while another shrank at the mere mention of his name.” Diane hugged herself tighter and twisted uncomfortably.” “That’s all you’re here for. “Nothing! What the hell are you doing. Instead. and wondered just how high on the food chain Alan ranked. Diane Havoc stood behind me with a scowl that could have cowed a pit bull. For two. I thought of his association with Emil’s band of merrymakers. 187 .” “I seem to have that effect on women. “She sure didn’t look happy talking to you..

. I could probably talk the girls into one song. Unless you want to friend me and do it yourself?” I couldn’t help but wink.” she said. Some think you’re dead. waiting. you know.DEAD BARCHETTA “What else you been Googling?” I teased. “I should get ready for the show.” The grin widened. “She’s friendly with our drummer.” She moved past. 188 . then. though she’s offered more than once to orient me. “So if your second question is do you have a shot. especially here. “Not usually for 80s night.” “I’ll get a message to them somehow. “Lot of people posting on your Facebook wall..” She smirked. “Interesting to see who your friends really are when they suspect you’re not well. Diane nodded. I wanted to ask if you had any Rush on the set list tonight. What’ll it be?” “Surprise me. “Two questions first?” She turned back. Diane graced me with a partial smile. I smelled industrial restroom soap and peppermint. She must have quick-stepped to the bandstand once she hit the club. “You really ought to adjust the privacy settings. and I reminded myself to check my account from Chad’s later on and note any Monty Python dead parrot references.” I said.” “No. “Do you know Lana Buxton?” She considered the question. “Anything interesting?” She looked up with a half-scowl. brushing my arm. You don’t need the whole world knowing your business. “Do my friends really think I’m dead?” The thought unsettled me. She doesn’t seem my type anyway.” “I do if I want to book my band. Surely Jack offered up a few.” Diane eyed me coyly and sauntered away. hovering close. answering it slowly. I don’t swing that way.

in labor. sweating and shaking his head. An uneasy ripple brushed the nausea higher into my throat at the thought that our encounter might have spooked her enough not to show at Terry’s gig tomorrow. but he certainly didn’t protest when I led him deeper into the lesbian jungle and commenced a 189 . and while he managed to jerk and glide often into my line of vision I managed to look over and around him but couldn’t see Lana. “Need to sit for a bit. They were good. He didn’t expect it. hoping for a glimpse of Lana Buxton. and took his hand. either. you invite all kinds of wrath.” He gulped in air. too. “Okay.” Five seconds later. chicks.” I said. Throughout their long set—from later Cyndi Lauper to one-hit metal wonders Vixen to Missing Persons—I divided my attention between the band and the crowd.KATHRYN LIVELY because Lazy Mae had already launched into Berlin’s “Metro” when I got to my table. Craig had long ago abandoned me for the dance floor and a more amiable— albeit female—partner.” You say that at a Rush show. For each 80s hit played they lent a unique style that no doubt left the listener wondering why a label hadn’t signed this band. “Tired. You have to be dying. The idea percolated through The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” but I nearly lost it when Diane took the mic. I saw Craig emerge from the throng.” Then they launched into “Subdivisions. Surely he’d require more help. Thanks for coming out and stick around for Juicer. “Like hell. “Where you going?” I called out to him as he passed. Anybody here tonight who didn’t think that for at least a second had to be deaf. we got one more by request and we’re done. or missing legs to earn a dispensation. Tomorrow. Terry needed to serve breakfast to a hundred or so rich do-gooders while Lana encouraged them to give even more.

however. Diane kept her gaze on me as she answered. Yet nobody seemed to care.” “Just wait ‘til I stop dancing before you strike.” she said. leaning over to shout. between me and the gals in the band we managed to get everything packed and on board in no time. or whoever had driven tonight. eh?” I laughed. so I’d steer clear. “Sally’s very particular about how she breaks down the drum set. **** “Need any help?” Diane looked up from snapping her case shut and glanced around her. the crowd moved together in time to the beat—united and enjoying the moment.” From my peripheral vision I saw the girl shrug. “I think I found your Achilles heel.” Sally. “I’m good. parked alongside a few cars already on the curb. I got some business to finish. “Can I carry anything to your car?” “Everything’s going into Sally’s van but this. Diane?” she called. “Whatev. Craig boogied right along beside me.” Our drummer Joel would just as soon stab you with a splintered stick than let you breathe on his Neil Peart signature Sabians. or point or make fun. Grab that amp case and follow me. Angry horns vented frustration from having to negotiate the cramped street with the added blockage. and bade a quick and weary 190 .” “I know all about that. no worries. “You coming. “We’re good for now.DEAD BARCHETTA rhythmless two-step and sway typical of a straight white guy.” she said. With a great band performing one of my favorites. Sally and the guitarist crawled up into the van.

.” I grinned.. and the awkward silence between us. “What makes you think she’ll talk to me?” “‘Cause you’re not me. “What will happen to improve your situation? Your girlfriend isn’t going to rise from the dead. “You just ask about her connection to Alan Peterson.” Diane caught the drift. too. Assuage.” I told her. But.” “How’d you like to beef up the volunteer section of your resume and help me clear tables at some charity breakfast for rich folks looking to assuage their guilt?” “Do you know how long I have waited for an offer like that? Such fancy words.” Diane shrugged. So. If I could find out what it is—” “What if you do.” “You could have been asleep in seconds in the back of that van. “The way she acted tonight. Diane had a point. but I can’t trust it. If Lana had a connection to Alan Peterson and his cult pals. me. “I hear news from home. Lerxst?” Diane broke in..” I sighed.” “Talking about you? How far will I get?” she snorted. but I doubt it. I don’t know if the police will care about what I have to say. I figured why not widen the gap. what could she do or say to let me return home without suspicion? She wasn’t my alibi. “I hoped to be asleep. and that you don’t mean any harm by it. “What can I say? I’m intrigued with what the early morning might bring. “Lana is supposed to keynote. I don’t know if people are 191 . “What are you doing in about six hours?” Diane quirked her brow at that.KATHRYN LIVELY goodnight. “If I try to go home now. there’s something there. seeing as how I didn’t make a good first impression. That left Diane. then laughed. and I’d hoped to talk with her then.” “She wasn’t my.” I said..

“You obviously wouldn’t have broken into my apartment if you didn’t think you could find something there. If anything.” “I should.” That sound in the distance you hear is Grandma ringing off abruptly with the caterers. I’d like to go to jail knowing I tried to find answers. thanks. you’ll know forensics is sophisticated enough to tell when somebody has taken her own life. “What does your intuition tell you now?” Diane paused a moment. False alarm. you should see me work with pimiento cheese.” “Challenge noted. but…” How to explain this? “You ever get the feeling something was off?” I asked her.” Diane said.” “Yeah. “When I found you in my apartment.” “Hey.” She cut swaths in the air with sharp gestures. sorry. Even if Lana can’t help me.” 192 . I knew right away you weren’t a bad guy.” My heart and stomach floated away at that. but I’ll warn you.” “I’m glad you decided the sandwich wasn’t enough. I kinda want to meet this miracle worker in the kitchen who seems to tolerate you. yeah. “If you say the girl killed herself.” “Do you honestly believe you’re going to jail?” Diane shook her head.DEAD BARCHETTA coaxing me into a trap.” “Well. “You trust your intuition because it’s been right too many times to ignore?” “You should know the answer to that. you staying away is only arousing suspicion. waiting for a few patrons to exit the club make their way down the street. but not dangerous. I guess. why wouldn’t a cop take your word? Do you have a record?” “Shit. and I feel I should return the favor. no!” “Then there’s no need to be paranoid. nobody makes it better than my grandmother. I appreciated what help you gave me with my stolen identity problem. “A weird guy. “If you watched Lana’s show like you claim.

and it would save from having to turn right around from Hoboken.” “He has a couch. took me about ten minutes by cab to get here.. Somewhere in the course of riding home. “You’re assuming I agreed to help you out later. right?” “Yeah. I felt around for the hall switch to guide her to 193 . “Well. there is. “Well. Speaking of. I’ll hazard a guess that there is no spare room. Call it payback for helping my keys and ID get stolen..” I said. or you’d have seen the kibble bowl I keep around just in case. Once inside Chad’s apartment. Now.” “Okay.” “I bet you used to bring home strays when you were little.” She nodded.” Diane raised an eyebrow.KATHRYN LIVELY “Gotta love family. She saw it coming miles away. but she cut me off as she stepped forward and a hailed a passing taxi. you got me.” I teased.” **** Lucky me indeed. “Apparently you didn’t get a good enough look around my place. pitching my voice higher to better sell the deal. “Lucky you..” Diane looked at me. I still think he had something to do with it.” I began. “He doesn’t live far.” “Bet the super loves that.” I grinned at that. “Used to?” She laughed. “What can I say. “where does your brother live?” “Not far. if he gets up early you could meet my brother.comes with spare parts.” she folded her arms. Diane had a change of heart..” “What the super doesn’t know won’t hurt him. when you didn’t get in the van.

rumbling in my ear. Not my typical sleeping position. but this way she couldn’t accuse me of trying anything funny. and curled away from me. 194 . I hadn’t seen Diane drinking. Diane checked the bed’s layers to find a thin sheet underneath the comforter. It sounded closer than I’d ever before heard it. Chad was right.” I sighed. still smelling like a lesbian bar. “Sure. “You plan to go back there?” “Ultimately. deep and ragged with exhaustion. When she motioned for me to stay atop the sheets is when I realized tonight’s compromise.” I said as we kicked off our shoes.” I lay flat on my back. “Don’t think I want to live in the city. and if this morning’s upcoming adventure revealed nothing new.” I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud until Diane inched closer and responded. Not exactly an attractive scent. “When am I gonna get to hear you play?” Her voice had taken on a throaty quality. I couldn’t hide forever. She slid all the way in.DEAD BARCHETTA the guest room when her hand curled around my extended arm. “Let me at least have some blanket. but I’m sure she could say the same of me. “When will you be in Virginia Beach next?” She lifted her head. “Answer me one question?” she asked with a yawn. and I saw nothing in her behavior that implied something impaired her judgment. “What if he checks in here first thing?” she whispered. and I didn’t want any of them kicking or clutching me in a place where I don’t wish to be kicked or clutched. and pulled me into the dark room before I could ask her if she knew what she was doing. what more could I do? Imposing on Chad and Terry wouldn’t last more than a few days. still in her jeans and t-shirt. She had all her limbs. hands folded on my chest.

Two AMway early for most people not missing a loved one. took the train in.” Yes.” That might have been for me.. pecking away on a laptop and pressing his earphones close to listen on the tapped line for clues.KATHRYN LIVELY “There’s always Jersey. then another. “You got a swimsuit?” I asked her. To set an extra plate for Diane. and instinctively set an extra place at the table for when Jack eventually arrived. This was all contingent on whether or not I still had a place with Dead Barchetta. The backlight created a brighter point of illumination that didn’t appear to disturb her. I took the chance that Diane had drifted away and slipped my phone out of my jeans. maybe not. Then head to the studio and jam until my fingers dented and turned purple. I hit the speed dial for home and waited.. turning my head slightly in the dim of the room to meet her heavy-lidded smile.” Diane yawned.” “Huh. well. I pictured a man in a white button down shirt with rolled-up sleeves sitting at the kitchen table. “Guess it depends on what you want to do. “Mmmm. and what I wanted more than anything right now was to sleep in my own bed with the window open so the ocean’s roar could lull me to sleep. Maybe he’s craving a cigarette and trying to figure out how to mask the stench from the old lady who’s likely to clobber him if she smells something amiss in her nice clean kitchen in the morning… “Yeah?” 195 . Chad lived in Bayonne before. He hated it. I wanted to wake up to the smell of Grandma’s French toast. If she wanted to see me play she’d have to stay somewhere. Three rings.

“Hello?” He didn’t sound irritated. and followed up with. Diane’s arm draped over my chest. “Don’t wake her if she’s not up. She surely needed the companionship. Turning off my phone to avoid the temptation to answer it. Ged love Jerry. He sensed my hesitation. “Just let her know I’m okay. gruff and heavy with sleep. and I’ll be home soon. “Soon.” No way. son. which told me he and Grandma definitely had prepared to accept any call regardless of the time without grief. he needed to stay with my grandmother. “You want me to come get you. just in case some detective was working out a trace. I’m not hurt. right now. taking me in a weak half-hug before sliding away to her side of the bed. and clicked off before I started blubbering. I set it on the side table and snuggled back in bed. answered. but once a cop… Besides. 196 .” I said. and protection. I will. I spoke quickly. “Hope it’s sooner than later.DEAD BARCHETTA A male voice.” he said.” The warmth in Jerry’s voice filled my ear and spread—I wouldn’t need that blanket after all.” I said. I recognized Jerry’s usual curt greeting right away and felt relieved he’d stayed there for Grandma.

“I can explain. a light tapping at the slightly open door drew me into semi-consciousness. a smile curling his lip. Diane emerged from under all the sheets. “Terry. I’m sure it’s more interesting.” I put all of my energy into opening one eye. and tucked for the whole time. lazy bones! Nobody offers to volunteer for my crew and reneges. Slowly. Diane shifted next to me and groaned. With my limbs heavy and sluggish. I realized he’d seen Diane. though the expression on his face revealed more surprise than irritation at this moment.” he said. “but I’ll stick with the version I just conjured in my head. “Come on.” An adrenalin boost got me out of bed. Terry stood in the doorway. good morning. buttoned. “You could. where I could show Terry I had remained dressed. I lifted my head to see over Diane’s fetal position and noticed the stare she returned was very much alert. Up and at—oh. Terry didn’t release his obvious sense of amusement. still in her jeans and shirt.” I said.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Eighteen Literally five minutes later. “Well. Yet. I ended up ignoring the signal as well and had nearly drifted back into total darkness when somebody threw the light switch and started bleating. fully dressed and posed to lecture.” he folded his arms. as though protesting the call. So…” He clapped his hands together. yes. whose presence no doubt interrupted his train of thought. “Do I have another helper? Or are we dropping you off along the way…Bueller?” 197 .

” “Right. either. Be out of here and downstairs in about ten. kids. “He’s gone to meet the train. so hang on for the ride. Chad up yet?” I called after him. then looked over her at me as though dying to know exactly how much charity Diane showed me when I brought her here. “Uh.” he said.” Terry ushered us into the back of his catering van. Lerxst said you might need extra help at this gig…” “And you happened to be feeling charitable?” Terry smirked. hon.” he said.” 198 . “No seatbelts. hi. “I don’t think Lana is going to make a scene seeing you there. pointing to a dented cardboard box in one corner next to stacks of sturdier crates. I’ll have the van up front. I’m Diane. and you can drag me out of here when the van stops. “Okay.” “Sorry.” Terry laughed.DEAD BARCHETTA Diane sat up now and stretched a bit. “I got extra jackets in there. “Well. “Sure. Yeah. “You know what you would funny?” I nudged a still yawning Diane. he was quite persuasive. Diane got next to me and tossed a white waiter’s jacket on my lap. “I’m the one who ought to be tied up and committed for agreeing to this.” Diane rolled her eyes and shrugged into her jacket the correct way. Be sure to lock behind you.” “Why nervous? We’re cleaning up breakfast plates.” I slouched down against the cool panel opposite a large baker’s rack that looked welded in place. Not the adjective he expected to hear. of course. “I tend to reach for the gallows when I get nervous.” Diane said. Diane bounced a bit on the bed and craned her neck to glance at me.” I thunked my head back against the panel wall. “How about I put this coat on backward and tuck the sleeves under my arms.

and the Koran. How would she react to a 199 . I closed my eyes to gauge our trail. Best not to reach across tables for those emptied cream dispensers. sensed every turn and shift the car made to get an idea of where he was going. psychic phenomena and all that shit?” Diane quirked her mouth to one side. curious expression and I found I couldn’t stop staring at her cute bow mouth. “I’ll assume you don’t.” I said. I glanced up into soft. Behold the result. and to be honest I don’t think about it. “My grandparents never took us to church. but a quick glance through the box revealed nothing better. I don’t talk about religion or faith much. I liked some parts. “Twelve years of Catholic school. Convoluted though the plot was. “She gave us bibles. her. particularly one scene where the boy—blindfolded and stretched out in the back of a limo. Back in middle school I’d read this mystery novel about a boy who gets kidnapped by the rival of his parents’ corporation. maybe didn’t. They decided early on when they got custody of us to let us find our own path.” Diane nodded. otherwise you’d have worded that question differently.” I closed my eyes and focused my being on the rumbling floor underneath me.” I laughed. “This experience has you seeing the light?” She sounded neither condescending nor flippant. brown eyes that enhanced a concerned. “Do you believe in intuition. and took us to synagogues and stuff if we asked. either. The sleeves constricted at the armpits—this was clearly tailored for a smaller man.” “And now?” Diane swayed in motion with the truck as it turned. as if in thought. “I don’t.” I righted the jacket. but since I can’t find my way around New York with eyes wide open I lost track early in he game.KATHRYN LIVELY “It’s not that. though Grandma attends services now.

The most famous people in the world walk the streets here unnoticed. either. but soon resumed with a lurch. “There are no atheists in foxholes. she proved difficult to reach in my sitting position. breaking my concentration. Fake Diane must have set it there for some reason. Lerxst. but ever since this shit all went down I’ve wondered if what’s been happening to me isn’t part of some great.” “To kill you?” Her eyes widened. cosmic connection. I’m thinking back through the last few days.” I said.DEAD BARCHETTA kiss? In this tight busboy getup.” “This is New York. back up!” The truck actually stilled at that command. I doubted I’d be able to shield my face from a slap without rupturing stitches. so I’ve heard. You could have knocked me out or called the cops at your place. “You know. I sounded like a little boy with a cracking voice. “The one in the leg.” “What do you mean?” Diane asked. and I’ve walked out in the open for two days. I shook away the temptation. “Are you making this shit up?” “Why would I?” I nearly squealed. a long-haired weirdo in a Rush t-shirt can’t be that difficult to spot. Come on. frowning. and then at the bar—” “Whoa. “What bomb?” Diane asked.” “Not just that. that prosthetics specialist just let me walk out of his office after the bomb.” she said. and what I’ve read about 200 . “Why haven’t I been caught yet? Chad says the cops are looking for me. From my peripheral vision I watched Terry in the driver’s seat and sensed him checking on us in the rear view mirror. “I never thought of myself like that. “I’m not big on angels and fairies and reincarnation and talking snakes.

” I said. people in white jackets rushed to set tables and arrange centerpieces..” The van lurched to a stop. Large. nudged me and I followed her through two swinging doors to the kitchen.” Big emphasis on the L.” I heard him say with exasperation as I lugged three boxes into the lobby. only I can’t see the airplane and I don’t know where I’m running. “and I’m either charmed or wilier than I thought. You ever see a Hitchcock movie?” “Love him.” she said. and Terry cranked the parking brake. Inside the assigned ballroom. 201 . “I’ve worked events like this before. Diane.” “All I know is that these last few days have been freaky strange. years ago. Seconds later the side door swooshed open to a blast of sunlight and a view of a contemporary hotel trimmed with shiny knobs and hinges on the great glass doors. Irksome.” He had to be talking about Lana. Here Terry shifted into full taskmaster mode. surely she needed to eat healthy. I looked around for Lana but couldn’t see her among the activity. even though I didn’t know the woman. If she was indeed recovering from cancer. vertical banners on either side of the back dais promoted the organization logos in cursive lettering wrapped in pink ribbon designs. I feel like that.KATHRYN LIVELY Alan Peterson and this cult and I’m wondering if there really is anything there.” “You believe somebody is really out to get you. Diane’s tongue poked from her lips and wet them in a manner that made me grateful my pants weren’t also tight. also toting a heavy load. “Her majesty’s diet is quite specific. ordering valets and us minions around to gather and cart while the other side of his mouth barked orders into his phone. “All ashore!” he called and bounced outside. presumably to track down the rest of his team. “No. “When Cary Grant is running through that field dodging the airplane. I took care of that..

About fifteen minutes before go time. all the non-rich retreated to the kitchen. ladies in elegant. then served the farthest table first as instructed during the very brief orientation received earlier. working temp jobs. we kept the gig moving on schedule. wide-brimmed hats and business casual dress drifted into the ballroom. True to Diane’s prediction. As we cleared emptied plates and used cutlery. “You two saved my ass today. Most of which Diane and I ended up serving. Diane. I’ve done similar at the beach. oval tray. 202 . what part of ‘I need you to supply you waitstaff’ implies the opposite?” grumbled Terry as he banged plates atop a large.DEAD BARCHETTA “I’ll lay odds Lana won’t show up until the last possible minute and will be whisked away the second the applause following her speech dies down. Each scanned the tables for a suitable place.” I hoisted the tray on one shoulder and backed out of the kitchen area. Lana proved a no-show during breakfast. “I mean. He glanced up from his food warmer with an apologetic grin. Between me. thanks to a miscommunication between Terry and the hotel staff that left the caterer short-handed. and soon the ambient noise rose in volume with the chatter of about a hundred charitable folks come for their expensive plates of quiche and melon rosettes. and one of Terry’s assistants pulling double duty with prep and service.” “Yeah?” No mixing with the great unwashed then. After one final survey of the crowd for coffee and tea refills. Still. my working here today increased the chance of seeing Lana again than if I’d stayed at Chad’s.” he said softly. the president of the organization stood to deliver opening remarks. “You know what to do now?” “Sure.

Even from the distance. Diane caught sight of me and beckoned. and when Lana turned the makeup worked well in keeping her colored when she might otherwise have paled. She 203 .KATHRYN LIVELY Terry spooked me from behind as I helped one of his assistants load up the sink for a quick wash. Buxton. so once we’re done here we can scoot. I apologize.. which confused me since I was under the impression that she recognized me. “Lerxst is a friend of mine. it was never my intent to make you uncomfortable in any way. the noise nearly drowned out the speaker in the next room. too. “He came to see the band last night. She wore a wig—obvious to me. The hotel is going to clean up the ballroom.” Diane explained to her. I noticed the thickness of her makeup which. “There’s extra in the food warmer. and Diane. I found the latter near the doors.oh!” Bing! Puzzlement became shock. “Something like that. Her eyes widened and mouth opened as though to protest my presence. sweetie?” My stomach grumbled from lack of food. I managed to get a word in before she attempted an escape.” “Oh?” She looked confused. I pointed downward. “How you holding up.” “Sounds good. deep in conversation with the elusive Lana Buxton.” I made sure I had no more commitments before leaving the station in search of food. “Ms. then again I was in on her open cancer secret. gave her an odd Oompa Loopa glow. My throat closed at the sight of her—she looked nothing like the woman I’d encountered at Harriet Hudson. and Lana looked at me as though I’d grown a new head right there.” “Oh. while it appeared to blend in a way to render lines invisible.” He laughed and patted my shoulder. make sure your friend gets something..

near hyperventilation. presumably to see a savior arrive who would grab me by the scruff and toss my ass out of there. no hint of the previous discomfort showed on her face. I turned back to Terry. love. then wave regally to the crowd. He pulled back his arm. Large cubes clinked in the cold. The three of us stood there and watched her work the line seated at the dais. yet struggled to maintain composure. “I’m better now. “Lana.” Lana took a deep breath and Terry took the glass.DEAD BARCHETTA breathed heavily.” she said. “They’re about ready for you.” Lana took the cocktail and downed half of it in seconds.” he scolded. amber liquid. I’d say your voluntary servitude is done. “Okay. Thought you could use a shot of energy since you missed breakfast. too.” 204 . She all but blew kisses. “What the hell did you give her?” I asked. Instead Terry eased past me and handed Lana a dewy highball glass. “Never you mind.” Lana’s voice quivered. and my boys can handle the remaining cleanup. young man. then glided into the ballroom with all the confidence of a TV star at her level of fame. A man who could bottle and sell instant attitude adjustments could rule the world. What about this one dead actor had this lady so spooked? Her gaze shifted from side to side like she watched for spies. Without another word. we’re about done here. and I’m really sorry I can’t stay past this engagement. reaching for the drink. she waited for the club president to announce her. Instead she relaxed a bit on looking past me. “Tell you what.” “Thanks. and the stone serious look in her eyes had me wanting to escape. “Do you need some water?” “I-I need to get out of here. are you okay?” Diane touched her arm. smiling at me like I was her number one fan.

You take a date somewhere nice.” Diane put a hand on my shoulder.. I only hoped this didn’t get back to Chad. “Bring her back tonight for my apple fritters if you want to close any deals. enjoy the day. Been doing this long enough. hon.” she said.. who’d definitely have me in a hotel by day’s end.. I felt Terry tugging at my sleeve to bring me and Diane deeper into the kitchen. Lerxst. and there was a vegetarian meal in there—” “For God’s sake. and I’m sure you and your lady have better things to do. I realized I had no shot in Hell in getting my way around here.” Looking around at the raised eyebrows and folded arms. “You have leftovers with coworkers and family. “And I’m getting hungry. Terry must have sensed how uncomfortable I had made Diane and turned on the mother hen act.” “But. I can take it from here.” **** So we scooted.. I didn’t expect you to stay the whole time anyway. 205 . “Wait. As I tried to discern her words. if he didn’t kick my ass onto a Virginia-bound plane first. alright? Now scoot. he told us to help ourselves to leftovers. who chattered merrily away at the podium to her appreciative audience. One last pitch for the home team. “Well. “You saying your own cooking isn’t good enough for a date?” Terry smirked.” I pointed at Terry. “Maybe we’d just be in the way. but damn Terry could haul! “Don’t you need help with serving coffee and refilling water—” “Lerxst. out the kitchen and through the lobby of some tony New York hotel whose name I didn’t notice.KATHRYN LIVELY I glimpsed through the porthole window of the kitchen door for sight of Lana. This is why you’re still single!” Terry rolled his eyes.” I tried to plant my heels against the floor.

Diane smiled. and I still hadn’t my bearings straight. and name brand coffee.” she said in defense. we usually hit there before work. Given the pace at which Diane moved. It took a few steps to catch up to her. “We’re not far from Times Square. with every color of the neon rainbow flashing in a billion light bulbs over our heads. pointing beyond a too-pink display of tiny Hello Kitties on a makeshift stage. When we passed the Hello Kitty store on West 42nd she paused to window shop. “Come on. “Which local eatery will most impress you at nine in the morning?” I asked. “I can see that. Maybe after this we’ll head back to my house for Pop Tarts and the Afterschool Special. She crooked her neck to the left and we rounded that corner. all walking somewhere with great purpose. everybody has a vice.DEAD BARCHETTA not even when we got outside since Diane decided not to let the concrete grow under her feet. Despite the daylight Times Square was lit higher than Amy Winehouse. it left me no time to envision myself in any happy place. then turned with a light scowl as she presumably heard me snickering. “Lead the way.B. It’s five o’clock somewhere.” I said and we wound down busy sidewalks and passed endless storefronts of leather handbags. “What? I’m a girl. I could see bringing Grandma here at a better time and haggling over whether to gawk at buildings from the double deck of an overpriced tour bus. or treat her to the Beatles brunch at B. Don’t stand there and tell me you 206 .” She tapped the glass. Never too early for a falafel. mobile phone accessories. King’s and hear her sing along flawlessly with a righthanded Paul. positioned like a row of feline Rockettes. I know a good place off the main drag.” What the hell. hands in her jacket pockets. We dodged suits and t-shirts alike.

” “Just wait.” I murmured.” I glanced back at the window and saw movement. “What are you doing?” I upturned the collar on my waiter’s jacket and closed it around my face. Diane said nothing at first. Thankfully she didn’t turn our way as she quickened her pace down the street. “Come on. I slipped behind her and slouched. Now I tugged at Diane. right down to her bright blonde hair and siren red lipstick.” I moved to follow but froze in place. and eased away from the storefront window.KATHRYN LIVELY still don’t have those old Kenner Stars Wars action figures in your closet. Amid a crowd of casual shoppers wearing jeans and shorts. she stood out in her crisp. Past shelves of stuffed dolls and t-shirts and tchotchkes.” “Into what. “Blending. but after half a 207 . pulling Diane back with me against the neighboring wall.” Then. 1987? Detective Crockett doesn’t work this beat. Mrs. my gaze fixed on one point deep into the boutique. “This way. inspecting something. “Let’s hang here for sec. form-fitting green dress and heels.” “Think somebody beat you to it. Laila Cook strode out of the boutique with a shiny black clutch under her arm and a tiny shopping bag with yarn handles looped over her wrist. “I need to see something. a familiar figure bent over the sales counter. Diane sidled next to me and followed my line of vision into the store. I need to see something.” “Not all of them—” She rolled her eyes and grabbed my arm.” I said. “I hope you’re considering buying me that diamond watch I’ve worshipped for years. and followed what I believed was a reasonable distance behind my guitar pupil.” Did I ever see it…her. Despite the saucer-wide Yoko Ono sunglasses I recognized her immediately. Diane turned back with a raised eyebrow.

the scent of smoked sausage and peppers set off a roiling wave in my stomach. One glance at Diane told me she appeared hungry enough to temporarily forget her convictions. The crowd thickened on the turn to Broadway. presumably in the opposite direction of our breakfast. which one did she go into?” I muttered.” I said. and pointed to the flashing walk sign. leaning to one side so I could tail Laila better.” I said. 208 . She rich?” “She can afford my lessons. Laila Cook was indeed a cougar—she had the speed down. you think?” Diane shrugged but kept walking alongside me. Those heels must have been designed by BMW. “Her old man’s a retired SEAL. yet with all the coincidental connections I’ve made over the past few days. She didn’t fidget or glance around her. she had a destination in mind. and they drive a nice car. because Laila was already across the street before we set foot off the curb. This early in the morning. is all I know.” she said suddenly. what’s the deal?” “I tutor that woman back home. “There. and we hung back about a hundred feet underneath the awning of a hot dog stand. she walked as though the city existed merely around her. “I guess. “Not so much. She paused at a crosswalk. and realized I’d quickened my steps to keep from losing sight. The way she walked. I had to wonder if Laila’s presence in New York meant more than wearing off the raised numbers on her husband’s AMEX. “Okay.DEAD BARCHETTA block of walking. I managed to keep sight of her until she disappeared into a restaurant a few hundred yards away. “Damn. Kinda odd we’d run into her in New York with all this going on. she asked.” “Then it would make sense for a woman like that to make regular shopping trips to the city. and didn’t stand to interfere. case closed.” Diane huffed for breath.

” I muttered. “What? She has a lunch date.” Diane said and took the lead. slowed her gait as though to keep from brushing her dress against a possibly splintered chair. Cook. “Maybe she’s in one of those funky polygamy religions. stood to embrace her. Not everything is a conspiracy. I knew I didn’t want to be a party to any probable extra-marital activities in which Laila Cook engaged. too. I’m guessing Stage Deli rather than the pizza place. Laila Cook. Tables abutted each other in long lines that barely left space for waitresses to move.” I whispered to Diane. “This is not good. One hefted three plates loaded with sandwiches and chips to her station with little effort. but actually witnessing her attentions on another man brought me no relief. In slow motion she slimmed past clinking silverware and plates of thick kugel squares to greet an older gentleman with silver hair and sunglasses. “Your grandfather cups your ass like that?” Diane shrugged. You need to stop jumping to conclusions.” Holy Ged in blue jeans. “Christ. after straightening his dark jacket. If she’s cheating on him—” Diane folded her arms and leaned back against me. Crowded despite the in-between hour. yet those working now appeared seasoned enough to negotiate the tight floor plan. “For all we know that guy’s a relative. The dining area had clearly been set up to accommodate the absolute maximum number of customers as allowed by the fire marshal.” I pivoted so my back hid my face from general view.” “That’s not Mr. Big deal. on the other hand. He looked up from a folded newspaper and.” 209 . we squeezed through the door and used the couple in front of us as a shield. And I’m sure there was a scene like this in Pulp Fiction. and we’re talking Pulp Fiction badass here.KATHRYN LIVELY “A lady like that. all pangs of hunger soured. “I know her husband.

” “Come on. She gave us a two-top in the back.” I said. Maura. No privacy on the shore to bury anybody. Laila handed over the gift bag from the Hello Kitty store. all veggie—and side order of potato pancakes. wedged in between two other couples halfway through their sandwiches. I chose to sit facing Laila and her mystery date. and Marie? It’s a whole damn reality show about them. this is definitely not good. don’t let this be an enabling of some kind of cutesy underwear fetish… “You know who that is. and returned to my attention with pale shock. Diane turned back presumably on the pretense of dropping some change. “A real one. really?” Diane raised an eyebrow and smirked. he didn’t ring a bell. too. keeping her head low in the ubiquitous sharing a dark secret position.” she said. another one of those socialite showcases. “I’m not going to guess The Sopranos because you’ll yell at me again. don’t know?” Diane hissed. “Benny Manzione. “What would it take to get you to switch to pinstripes?” “Gonna take a hell of a lot more than grilled cheese.” Honestly. keeping my gigantic menu in front of my face. they got their fingers in everything.” “Oh. Me. “How could you not know that? They’re all over the TV thanks to that damn show.DEAD BARCHETTA A waitress arrived to seat us before I could retort. Every week they’re getting manicures or shopping for tampons and firing the servants.” “I know.” “Which Soprano was he now?” She rolled her eyes. “My favorite reality stars wear Orioles uniforms. Please.” We compromised on an omelet to share—light on the Swiss. Ged. you asshat. I doubt there’s any Mafia in Virginia Beach. He’s part of the Manzione family. mainly his granddaughters.” I nodded.” “Ah. “Jesus. I 210 . I’ll tell you that now. probably one up Hillary Clinton’s you know what.

why else come to a crowded deli and flash around jewelry and a gorgeous blonde? The food arrived. Hard to tell how well my voice carried in the noisy.” I tried to study Manzione’s relaxed grin and thick jowls. so I wanted to believe. but the couples flanking us didn’t seem fazed by our conversation. Two cans of Doc Brown’s black cherry arrived along with a glass of ice for Diane. “He just got out of prison. As she filled me in on the TV show and other “family business. I tried to get as good an imprint of Benny in my mind without appearing like a completely unrefined gawker. muthafuckas. Laila and Big Ben received their lunches and continued their chat amid crunching potato chips and stirring forks in the slaw. I thought back to when I snatched that used copy of The Times back at the hotel. He caught my eye and my heart stopped.KATHRYN LIVELY asked to keep the menu and used it to divide my attention between Diane and Laila’s date with the Godfather. but in that same breath his lip quirked up in a smile. but he certainly looked no physically worse for it. I had seen a fuzzy shot of Manzione walking down a set of white marble stairs. acoustic-poor restaurant. 211 . to distract me. I assumed he welcomed the attention. He had the polished look of a suave business man with not a hair out of place and a glittering jawbuster of a ring on his left hand. Then it hit me that The Times wasn’t the only place where I had seen that name recently. thankfully.” I said suddenly and bit my lip. One hand palmed her phone as she entered some text. Yet. Every gesture sent a shining Morse code announcement—check me out. and remind myself how I knew of this guy. that wasn’t all I knew about the guy. and I dove into my side of the omelet while Diane exhibited better restraint. I couldn’t recall from the paper where he’d done his time.

but that could have been a lie as well. After a quick chew. As long as I’d tutored her. no longer tempted my appetite. and I play songs about trees and 212 . she had ample opportunity to do the job herself. What unspoken communications occurred between them. even?” I shook my head. I thought back on that day when the Cooks barged into the studio. and ostensibly the Manzione family. The girl had failed her mission. you know. What I had in front of me. dunking it in the too-shallow cup of sour cream. “You think she was in on it?” Diane asked me. “Maybe she and your other Diane were working together? Related. “I still don’t understand. Laila claimed to have no children. Fake Diane had shrank from Laila’s overture of friendship—I’d chalked that up to nerves.. “I’m a music teacher. and took the only way out she knew before Laila. The woman had cried with relief at the studio on seeing I hadn’t been harmed. and looked up at me. she jerked her head toward them and added.” Diane cut a healthy chunk of omelet and crammed the whole bite in her mouth. “She might have faked her concern. What are the fucking odds?” That didn’t bother me as much as Laila Cook’s obvious ties to this predicament. but now I wondered if there was more going on there. why me?” Hunger renewed with my frustration and I grabbed the last bite of potato pancake. Emil’s church had mob connections. could inflict a much more unpleasant coda.” she said.DEAD BARCHETTA “I may just owe you an apology. On the other side of the restaurant she laughed at an unheard joke and twirled her fork in the air like a conductor’s baton as she illustrated a counter story. delicious though it had first tasted.perhaps one quirk of an eyebrow from the older woman signaled her disappointment in my survival. “I know. “On trying to kill me?” That didn’t make sense..

By the time Benny and Laila left the deli Diane had checked her mail and all her social profiles.” 213 .” “Maybe they thought you were close to blowing that Laila woman’s cover. Can’t imagine who else would write on my wall. I know they’re not my songs. “I can check your page if you like. Besides. and checked my wallet for my half of the bill. with her alleged connections?” I didn’t bother responding. then. why go after me unless they thought I knew too much and needed to be silenced? My black cherry soda finished thick and syrupy in my throat. if I really wanted to I could stalk her at home. then I saw Benny had tossed a wad of bills on the table and stood as Laila also rose to leave. we both knew that was a flimsy theory. who’s had time?” She winked. “Are we moving?” Diane asked. The question confused me for only a second. I know where the Cooks live. “Did you ever friend me on Facebook?” I smiled.KATHRYN LIVELY Tolkien and free love. Laila Cook had never done or said anything to lead me to suspect she was in a “family” way. Assuming Laila and my failed assailant were in cahoots. but I’d like to think if Neil Peart had an issue he’d just send me a cease and desist rather than La Femmes Nikita and Laila. “I’ve been with you all morning serving quicheto rich people. Why play the Alan Peterson card then? Plus. “Dessert?” I declined.” “Sure.” “Fair enough. and the dead Matt had been a target all along.” Diane kept her gaze down on her phone. Only the other Matt Johnston’s death nagged at me. except for when I could expect this weird dream to end. At this point I either knew everything or nothing. “We could. but I don’t know what more I’d learn from following them.

“You have an Uncle John?” Not even close. Of course. If they flew. but what it was I didn’t need right now. I imagine Grandma suspected I was here anyway and decided she’d given me enough time to lay low.” “Not even to sleep?” I’d kill to have a long. Looking at this picture of John Lennon in his New York City t-shirt he pinned to the note has me thinking one thing. “Back where? I’m off tonight and have no reason to go home now.DEAD BARCHETTA “Some guy named Jack.” Diane frowned and checked her phone again.” She’s come to take her children home. “When do you need to get back?” I asked Diane. me. they’ll be here now.” “What does it mean?” Diane asked. “I have a Grandmother Julia and she has a Jerry. at least part of it is. The rest I can’t place. he’s come to take his children home. “A code?” Diane asked.” “’Uncle John’s Band’ by the Dead. I swallowed back and sighed.” Diane held up her phone.” “It’s ‘Julia’ from the White Album. “I see. 214 . early this morning. “Any reason your friend is quoting the Beatles?” I found it difficult to speak in that moment.” Assuming they’d go straight to the apartment. for my heart lodged in my throat. So come with me or go alone. “Your friend posted this around eight. which consisted of an attached photo and a cryptic mash of lyrics: Half of what I say is meaningless. they’d see my stuff there. What worried me was the possibility of actually having to do that in order to relax. restful nap. At the very least. and I saw Jack’s message. “You know the song then.

withering. I don’t know why I decided to head this way—what could be learned from the remnant of a mob boss’ lunch? The waitress had already scooped up the money. Behind the chair where Benny sat. we stood to leave. though. on our way to return to the congestion of Manhattan. “Now if your friend had quoted him. “I’m taking the long way. though.” The right amount of cash and tip paid on the table. I don’t mind. The black and white shot showed him shaking hands with a man I presumed owned this place. and once I got to the table I found just two plates smeared with Russian dressing. I tapped Diane’s shoulder. “You still an O’s fan?” I sighed. a framed photograph clued me in that Benny sat here often. and two dewy water glasses—one bearing a loud red lip imprint. Before we did. I’d have gotten the message quicker.” I told her and backtracked a bit so I could pass Benny’s now vacated table. and we squeezed ourselves down the tight row. Above that photo. If Grandma is on her way to Chad’s.” She closed her phone and stuffed it in her jeans pocket.KATHRYN LIVELY Diane shrugged with a smile. we could delay the inevitable and—” Diane turned back to me. likely wishing silently for a busboy to move his tail and keep the turnover smooth.” I said.” Who’s doing just that. “I’d rather not talk about death. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I saw four people grinning at me. “Or. the rounded uneaten ends of a pickle.” “Warren Zevon. Alan Peterson… 215 . I know I won’t be getting any until she’s done with the third degree. A hand written caption at the base listed Lana Buxton. “Right. In the distance I saw a couple gazing longingly at the cluttered space. Sleep. shifting our hips to avoid the backs of chairs.

DEAD BARCHETTA …and George Johnston. Dad. 216 .

I cut her off.” “Your dad’s probably meeting her in the afterlife now.” she began. She must have put my name and Code Blue together and remembered some freaky event involving my father. Grandma had said. She looked as white as I felt. He taught acting.” 217 . and/or the cult. This only brought new questions for me. look. maybe? To cult members? A cult in which he was a member himself? “Excuse me. this moment sort of answered one question for me: it explained why Lana Buxton weirded out at the lesbian bar. How did Dad end up in this picture. sir.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Nineteen ¿Que? If anything. The photo looked nailed to the wall. while Dad was a teacher. and I don’t know how I’d get it out of here inconspicuously anyway. so I just allowed myself one final hard stare to imprint the image in my memory and retreated to where Diane stood at the deli entrance. but instead took a quick breath and backed out of the way to let the busboy do his job.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. “My dad’s in a picture with Lana Buxton here. Alan Peterson. Mom stayed at home. though. and did he really know Lana and Alan? He wasn’t an actor that I could remember. too powered by a pumping heart and jittery nerves to want to pay attention. “You are not going to believe this.

Johnston.” Diane looped an arm around mine. I tapped her thigh in a quiet signal for her to run. “Mr. “I’m going to prove that theory wrong. scrolling more related posts. blend into the crowd and not to 218 . The air around me seemed quite cold. though. Tall buildings shielded the sun. this time to her Twitter client. “Outside of meeting me today.” “What?” I needed that kind of help myself. I felt Diane press behind me. “She’s trending right now. “She had cancer. Don’t think you had anything to do with this. “She was sick already. keeping the world on schedule while somewhere a woman I barely knew might be dying just because I showed up.” “I have this affect on women. What happened that she suddenly took a bad turn?” Diane shook her head slowly.” Outside the world seemed a bit grayer. she’s probably stressed out…” Or somebody stressed her out.” She smiled. and about half the people there tweeted it. Pedestrians plowed forward nonetheless. she looked fine. and a stretch of darkened clouds provided more cover.DEAD BARCHETTA Diane had her phone out again. EMTs carried her out…it doesn’t look good. “Hey.” he said coolly. you can’t predict it. Let’s go see if your grandmother is here. she works full-time. They get close. I didn’t know what to think anymore.” He pivoted to one side to reveal a limo with tinted windows idling just off the curb. they die. “We understand you and your companion are in need of transportation. Plus. and Diane and I weren’t three steps out of the restaurant when a large diesel truck in sunglasses and a black suit blocked my view of the city. If I could walk out of here without throwing up my omelet I’d be doing good. She collapsed at that gig not long after we left.

revealing two pairs of legs— male and female. “Right. Yet. I so wanted that to be the worst thing to happen today. spike heels the other. Black suit facing one way.” he said. The unsmiling Diesel dropped his arm to the side. One broad gesture to the limo opened the door with little assistance. Johnston?” Diesel pressed. Clear decanters of various liquors 219 . she stayed with me. Diane and I looked at each other. and maybe a stop for a view of the East River. pale head gleamed. Surely to Ged one of them was the patron of Mafia victims. scared and compelled to cling together. He had the advantage all-around—he was huge and intimidating and knew my name. He seemed to have his coordination skills down as well. leaving Diane and me to crowd together on a shorter bench facing rearward. tightening her grip on my waist. A bar with a built-in television was situated along the side of the stretch Lincoln opposite our seat.” So I would catch hell for delaying my own execution. Laila shifted around to sit next to Benny Manizone. At least I could take comfort in knowing I’d taken enough of her money without actually teaching her much guitar. and them. and his brow creased with obvious annoyance at my hesitation. I used those precious seconds to recall the names of all those saints our Catholic neighbors used to invoke when I went over there for dinner. “I…” Any more words failed me. his shorn. Laila had seen us after all and ratted us out. Manzione is a very busy man. Despite the lack of sun. Off on a nice late morning drive through the city. “Mr.KATHRYN LIVELY stop until she got back to Hoboken. You’ve kept him waiting long enough. “I…” That I could get that one syllable out amazed me. which we did as we entered the back of the limo. “Mr.

DEAD BARCHETTA glowed odd colors in the neon backlight. “I find it hard to get out of there without dessert. You sat on my lap when you were two years old. If I weren’t going to my daughter Connie’s for dinner later. Too bad the rest of my body didn’t play along—I quivered like Jell-O on the inside and kept my breathing steady to keep my breakfast down. If I was going to die. rectangular set displayed Bloomberg Television. and the muted. I kept that sentiment wisely to myself. kid.” he added. I hoped to appease Benny with a nervous chuckle. I’d have gotten the cheesecake. but she didn’t look very comfortable at Benny’s side. Skinny as she is. This one. “How did you know my father?” I blurted out.” Benny groaned. a bit more jovially. steadying myself. Disgust or guilt. then winced when the car door slammed.” he jerked his thumb toward Laila. “I shouldn’t be so surprised. though. but Laila just rolled her eyes while Diane kept her head down.” What? Surely he didn’t expect me to remember that far back. I gripped my seat and flared my nostrils. One would think a murderer who dressed this well might possess enough manners to introduce himself first. sir.” “I know who you are. “They call you Lurch. I looked to Laila for confirmation—Ged only knows why—but she avoided eye contact with me. I don’t know if she’s throwing it up. “I was beginning to wonder if you two were ever coming out. the way a recently quit smoker does when he hasn’t gotten the hang 220 . “No. but he’d moved on to new business. “I don’t bother. Benny held his fingers close to his face. My name is Matt. I didn’t see why I should simper in fear of this man. is it?” Benny asked. The limo heaving forward—my backward—nearly caused an eruption. I couldn’t say.” I supposed we should laugh at that.

“He and I had a good deal going for a while. As long as you were in there. “Well. intelligent people. and I couldn’t remember my phone number for a week afterward. My grandparents’ eclectic child-rearing style notwithstanding. who do you think was supplying his dope?” Benny stabbed a finger to his chest. gotten his pussy. He had it all together with free love and no war. Can you believe that shit? You got people all over the damn world hanging on your every word and you’re just going to go wander off somewhere and pray on your own. I didn’t want to know how well they knew Benny here. and wanted to retire to a farm upstate. The idea that my father.” “You were both in Emil Samaranch’s…group. looking at the pictures. your folks and I.KATHRYN LIVELY of weaning off the stuff.” He laughed at that. perhaps I’d made a new BFF. not those easily swayed by the charms of a charismatic megalomaniac.” Neither of the women protested. “Yeah. we dug what Emil was preaching. until he decided he wanted to cut back. had been involved in a cult floored me. I can still remember how they tasted. 221 . both of my parents. Benny nodded. I’d grown up believing they had been decent. he made a lot of sense.” I said. but if you really listened to his messages. one filled with peace…and more than the occasional piece. He’d made his money. if I may be inclined to mention in mixed company. “and cooked up some of the best hash brownies ever. you can bet Emil’s were good.” he grinned wider. He promoted a simpler way of life. you put the pieces together.” “On the drugs?” “On the church in general. no doubt. “Lot of people thought Emil was pretty wacko.” “I’ve had one hash brownie in my life. Jesus. guy. “You look like you’re a smart enough. yet my desire for answers kept my attention primed.

with no true cause determined. not to mention the potential for making more money? Tax-exempt!” You mean besides Jesus? “I read that Emil Samaranch was found dead in his home. “I guess we know what the L on your forehead stands for. and Benny shifted in a defensive pose. The more I learn. twentyfive now?” He settled back against the bench seat. “Again. “Well. and I live with my grandmother.” “What could I possibly know to benefit you?” I nearly cried out.” He actually looked sincere saying that.DEAD BARCHETTA What kind of jackass walks away from that kind of adulation. somebody tried to kill me last week. I had twentyodd years to sit on my ass in the dark and formulate my own queries. I can assure you.” “Did you kill my father?” My grandparents never divulged the details of their car accident beyond getting hit by a truck. as though to reach into his pocket for a gun. like she honestly believed it. Those fingers now tapped his forehead.” He tapped his temple.” 222 . “And you’re what. “I’m a fucking music teacher. younger girl with a lame leg using her ID. a simpleton I’m not. For all I knew now.” “No shit?” Benny smirked. I did not do. “You must think the imaginary S I have here stands for Simpleton to think I’m going to admit to anything like that. Laila’s expression softened. the more benevolent I’ll be.” I nudged Diane. barely paying my bills. but they aren’t coming for free. “That. cool as ice. it might have not been an accident. “Did you send her?” Benny chuckled. Did you kill him?” The car slowed to a stop and paused a good thirty seconds or so while Benny chuckled off the question. I’ve never even seen The Godfather all the way through. “I may know the answers to your questions.

and that this one here. I thought perhaps part of her cougar act had been sincere. “Where are we going?” I asked. No need to ask who met Grandma and Jerry at the airport.” Benny said. kid. Diane’s came to grasp one and we held together for the rest of the tense ride.” When Laila’s eyes widened with horror at that. She returned with a weak smile. you know the way.” The minutes stretched in agonizing silence until we got there. She pursed her lips and kept her head still when Benny glanced at her. I don’t make deals that don’t benefit me. “Either of you try to run. but I swore she wanted to tell me something. “Go straight upstairs. son. Holding her this way now gave me comfort.” Benny ordered. you can do whatever with me. She barely knew me and yet risked her life to help. Now. move. “To a place where I’ll get the answers I want. I wanted to draw her closer and kiss away any fear.” I indicated Diane. If you pull over and let her go. our audience be damned. Diane trembled in my grip. I looked at her and sent a silent apology to her. Grandma had told me once that was a sign of memory recall. “Helping you is why she’s here. and in seconds the door swung open to Chad’s building. We eased to a stop.KATHRYN LIVELY Hardy har. “I’m smart enough to know I’m here for a reason. not exactly a good way to spend a day off from work. at my hands twined together. you both get shot. but that would mean letting go of her hand to maneuver around her shoulder.” 223 . “hasn’t done anything but help me out. “Sorry. Shit. resigned.” I looked down at my lap. and I hoped Diane managed to get more saints in her corner before this ended. her eyes shifting side to side.

just being 224 . but my feet had become leaden weights supporting gelatin. but as I turned I noticed it was only his thick finger. set my anger to eleven. I saw her weariness and true age. The open door didn’t inspire confidence.DEAD BARCHETTA We shuffled out first. Of course. with Laila so close behind me she could have squeezed in between us. Really. the man held a gun. The sight of her blindfolded. “You.” I said. Her harsh whisper tickled and burned at the same time. Benny’s gun jabbed me in the back. and Benny barked from behind. “You shouldn’t have come up here.” she scolded in my ear. “What? You don’t know what to do at an open door? Get the fuck in there!” It took only two steps to go inside. and untie Grandma and Jerry from the chairs where the slim. nobody should ever have to experience a loved one in danger like this. The sexy siren who turned heads in the studio now turned my stomach. Made sense. Heavy makeup attempted to cover dark circles under her eyes. hands secured at the wrists on her lap. “You were foolish to go off sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. Perhaps we’ll meet next at the bottom of the Hudson in matching concrete Chuck Taylor’s. “are an untalented cunt.” Her mouth gaped open and stayed that way for the flight up the stairs to Chad’s apartment. keeping my voice even and cold. We paused at the threshold. especially if you’re in no position to solve the problem. I hugged Diane to me and tried to twist away from Laila’s touch. It took all my restraint not to dive toward the scene before me. and her face cracked where the wrinkles were set deepest. sneering greaseball hovering over them had presumably bound them. aimed just behind my grandmother’s ear.” This close to Laila. but she insisted making it a three-way.

The bitch. all the while. thankful our unwanted guests at least permitted that. If I had just called home earlier. but I didn’t want to believe it..” “I’m fine. where is Chad?” Benny walked around me toward Grandma and Jerry.. “You okay. rubbing his hands together like a sinister cartoon villain. He was quite the pistol when I saw him last. A queasy sickness had overtaken me. “Swear to Christ.” “Lerxst. At least I’d get an answer aside from Shut the fuck up! “Yes. “Where’s Chad?” I asked again. he wouldn’t carry a gun so soon and arouse suspicion.. sweetheart?” she pressed. “Are you okay. as I realized how many people I’d placed in danger. stood close to the door watching everything unfold with quiet callousness. I guess. Grandma?” I called out. told Grandma I was okay and with Chad. “I’ve been worried sick about you. if either of you have done anything—” 225 . Lerxst! I knew you were there. that was. I moved closer but her captor met me in one step with menacing growl.” Grandma sobbed underneath her blindfold. I looked back to see Diane wiping away tears. Chad! “Where’s Chad?” I asked Grandma directly rather than address the thug..” As fine as a hostage could feel in the face of impending death. Simpleton.” Her voice cracked and Jerry leaned in a bit as though to her comfort her.KATHRYN LIVELY sprung. Laila. Grandma. angrier this time. and received a dirty look from her captor in return. “It’s been ages. and I pulled her to me. maybe she’d have been content to stay put. Grandma gasped and struggled in her bonds. “God.

Terry shoved Chad to stand next to me. “Though one of my nieces wouldn’t mind bringing him into the fold. “That’s a rather ironic name. his bed. What sympathy I had for him boiled so hot I wanted to spit steam. and shoved Chad toward us. “You’re part of the Manzione family?” she asked Terry. my voice leaden and strange. A dizzying sensation threatened to overtake me as I thought quickly back to the events of the morning. unblinking stare..” Benny snorted. Chad had taken this man into his life. who crooked his head toward the hallway. I about threw up in my mouth to see a man I actually trusted—somebody my brother had loved—betray him this way. Shit.and here we stood lucky enough that the asshole had only so far used his betrayal to rip out Chad’s heart.DEAD BARCHETTA “I ain’t done shit to him. then chuckled. his hands raised and head bowed. Terry. I caught his cold. Diane voiced what I found difficult to accept. and raised the gun to eye level. his circle of trust. he looked as though somebody had flicked the evil switch on the back of his neck. given the circumstances... presumably so I couldn’t see that he’d been crying.” Terry responded in kind. followed by another gun-toting thug.” I said. “You’re with the Harmony Church then. Chad appeared first. “Why don’t you ask your pal over there? “What? What are you.. “Not hardly.” 226 . As he stood he diverted his face. and last night.” barked the brick wall with the gun.?” I heard a commotion from the depths of the hallway— shouting and feet scuffling. My brother tripped up a step but caught himself before toppling completely.

“I’m sorry.” he muttered. or rather wireless. you baggy old pothead. hearing Diane gasp softly. “What did she do to earn your wrath?” I thought about that drink Terry had given her at the hotel. “Ain’t nobody updating Tweeter here today. His face contorted. no doubt mistaking each instance of noise for a gunshot. “What? What Twitter?” Benny asked..it’s a wonder things get done. close to crying again. “We are very good to our family provided they return the favors.” Benny muttered. “you mean that. All this damn technology. “Goddam Twitter. Only the gun trained at my head kept me at bay—Grandma wouldn’t want me risking death to avenge a slap in the face. then he rolled his eyes. the blindfolds were yanked free and I held my grandmother’s red streaked gaze.” Benny stepped forward and threatened Grandma with a raised hand..KATHRYN LIVELY “It’s not your place to judge us.” Benny swept the phones together with his foot and kicked them as one toward Laila. “Used to be you could make somebody disappear and nobody notices for days. For each phone that hit the hardwood floor my grandmother cried out.” “And Lana Buxton?” I pressed. confused. but didn’t strike. and realized he probably tainted her meal as well in the event she ate... “Christ.” Benny snapped his fingers. and we slowly complied. boys. 227 .” Terry said.” she said. “I should have told you years ago. She was strong. though she cowered at Benny’s size looming over her. empty your pockets. Was he kidding? Surely to Ged the prisons were wired. Come on.” and he gestured his bent thumbs in a rapid air tapping motion before throwing up his hands.” “You should have told me years ago. With a silent nod to the unnamed thug.

Jerry quieted but still shot silent daggers at Benny. and I held her close.” “No!” She struggled in her bonds. we never kept too much in the greenhouse.” Terry snickered. “I-I don’t know where he is.” “I’m not! For all I know. and local cops are 228 . while Terry tsked and gestured with the gun for me to step back. but the glazed expression on his face told me he’d prove useless throughout this exchange. “You send some dingbat to kill me.DEAD BARCHETTA “Where is he?” he demanded of her. “Son. they’ve been dead for years.” Grandma shook her head. If pot were people.” “Who’re they talking about?” I hissed at Chad. “You don’t talk to her like—” Jerry’s admonishment ended abruptly with an open-palmed blast upside the head from No-Name. but what Grandma grew would have had Bob Marley sitting up in his grave and saluting. “I can’t believe you have no idea what’s going on. he’s been dead all this time. she grew Einstein and Beethoven several times over. through the lesser evils? Granted. “Is this about the weed we’re growing? You want a cut of that?” Why not? Isn’t that how the Mafia makes their money. “Tell me where he is.” “You’re lying. “This can’t be about my parents. “I haven’t heard a word in years. or I kill one of them. this is far bigger than some measly closet hemp. and as I moved forward so did everybody else in the room. too. one hand in her open purse.” Benny turned back to me. “Why are you people doing this?” I asked Chad’s now ex. Diane tensed at my side. Laila put forward a bold step. interested now. Benny kept his focus on my grandmother.” “I’ve been saying that for the last fucking week!” I shouted.

with the cast of villains looking around at each other in muted conversation. but she sat up straight and puffed out her chest in a defiant pose. It seemed the only certainty I’d understand.KATHRYN LIVELY liking me for the murder of a guy with my name. “both know who he is. They struggled. I leaned over and kissed Diane on the forehead. My own innocence in this matter. Brief nods and twitched lips relayed some coded plan probably reserved in the event of such a freakout. Benny scratched his chin for a few seconds before returning to my grandmother. just as you are if you’re completely ignorant. Fuck this!” At this point I about welcomed a bullet to the head. while Jerry tried to soothe her. “Who the fuck is he and what’s he got to do with us.” That did it.” His thumb hooked back to indicate me. if you know too much you’re at risk.” My insides turned to cold stone. “You. “You brought in that Francine idiot. “Who’s left?” Silence fell about the room at that point.” Her kiss hit the target. would cost another life by no fault of her own. if it’s not me or Chad?” I shouted. Maybe his death will jar some memories around here. “I’m not. but it didn’t last long with Benny’s next words. Funny. however. and now some weird-ass cult has us at gunpoint and everybody’s talking in crypto-quotes.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. “You and I. “I told you I don’t know anything. Diane’s scream breached sensitive ear space.” he said. “Perhaps you’re better off killing the lot of us. You clean up her mess. “Kill him first. but the gun aimed at my brother’s head was too much of an 229 . Grandma started bawling loudly and unintelligibly.” she said. while Terry tried to jerk Chad away from the line of fire.” He pointed at Laila.” I whispered. but only one of us knows where. “I’m so sorry.

shouting and pleading for Laila to take him instead. deciding Laila Cook’s scowling face shouldn’t be the last thing I’d see on this earth. namely me with a sucking chest wound. Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. She smiled wide. “This is for calling me a cunt. bodies pressed against the rim cheering hard. Were the thing not aimed to hit me between the eyes I might have complimented her choice in weaponry. smiling and jamming on and feeding off the excitement of the crowd. That’s not happening. and pulled back the hammer. Laila pulled out a snub nose revolver—not what I’d expect from a Mafia gun. the visions that saw me through the years. Behind me the chrome trim of a tricked out DW drum set lined with Sabian cymbals.” she said. The crowd stilled in unison as well. but the style fit her.DEAD BARCHETTA advantage for the gunman. We played the early Rush. Instead I searched my memory banks for any images of the dreams I enjoyed. I closed my eyes. waiting for the Professor to take the helm. With steady breaths I let the screaming around me fade into Joel’s near perfect falsetto mimicry of the original: My life is slipping away…even when I am gray… Right. 230 . Chad hit the far bookcase when Terry slammed him there. awash in neon and pyrotechnics. I heard the pop and everybody on stage stopped playing and looked right at me in wonder. I saw Jack and Joel with me. I looked down at my prized ES-355 and noted every scratch and ding that recorded its journey from the time I received it to my last gig at the beach with Dead Barchetta. gleamed under the stage lights. close to touching her ears like the Joker. like they’d expected more. I saw the stage.

“When he did not?” With that the gun disappeared into her purse and out came a badge flashed in our faces. My brother. “What the fuck!” No-Name stammered and jerked his gun upright to shoot Laila but a second bullet—not from her gun—slammed quickly into his temple and knocked him to the ground. despite the carnage. “Lerxst I know. “U.” “Chad. Grandma and Jerry rubbed their wrists and came over to me. United States Marshal.KATHRYN LIVELY I opened my eyes to see Benny lying on his back. “a lot of shit’s gone down here. pausing to make sure the kill took. at his side now. I should explain—” “You God damned son of a bitch. Marshals?” Chad sounded dazed. My mind returned quickly from my imagined world tour to process what had just happened.” She gestured to Terry. “When did Benny call you a cunt?” he asked. too?” Chad demanded of Terry. We need to calm down a second…” 231 . sheepish smile and plucked a badge from his back pocket. he relaxed and huffed at Laila. “You. “Chad. simply walked over to Terry and looked at him with disbelief. I set Diane over on the couch. flinching only when Laila closed in to help. and Diane clung to me sobbing and drooping from emotional exhaustion. but I reluctantly scooted away in anticipation of more fire.” I said. but he had moved on to untie Grandma and Jerry. Terry offered a small. Laila Cook. eyes open and filling with blood from the hole in his forehead. Terry inched closer and pointed his gun downward. Laila sighed. Once certain. more so than I felt at this point. Two men lay dead at our feet.S. the rest of you I don’t. “You’re a Marshal?” Their bonds free.

only his pride mattered. I would know.DEAD BARCHETTA He didn’t listen. because when I wedged in between the two of them to mediate I ended up the recipient of my brother’s knuckle sandwich.” Terry corrected. “If you would give me a chance—” What Chad gave him instead was swift and hard and strong enough to knock a man into next week. In two seconds flat I’d returned to that smoky Aerosmith show Francine/Fake Diane had interrupted to finish off Love in an Elevator. In his current mindset. Going dowwwwwnnnn… 232 .” “I protected you. “Everything you’ve said and done has been a lie. You used me.

“What did you miss? What did we miss?” Chad snorted. son. “Who gave me this?” I asked and tried to sit up.” I waited for a splash of emerald green to cross the path on high heels. After Chad hit you. right down to the stuffed bear in the UVA jersey that I had clutched to my chest. Grandma had moved into Jerry’s position and smoothed a hand over my face. “Settle back. you fell back and knocked your head against the floor. Through the sliver left by the open door I watched the activity in the living room. then gave up after a few seconds while family and friends fussed over me. We need to make sure you don’t have a concussion.” His deep voice rumbled through my ears and chest.” Jerry warned. Diane. but Jerry eased me back and righted the damp rag draped over my forehead. “Good luck trying to process twenty years of deceit. I guess.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Twenty I could have been Dorothy as she awoke and returned to black and white.” “Chad.” “I’m fine. “You took a nasty spill. please. What did I miss?” They had me laid up in the guest room—Grandma. “I’m not going anywhere soon. “They moved us in here 233 . Uniforms and trench coats filled my line of vision and the static of distant radios confirmed various crime scene instructions. standing. and Jerry perched close on the bed near me while Chad paced the foot of the bed along what little space he had.

and a trickle of cold water oozed between my eyes. good to start slowly. Diane hugged it to her chest and idly stroked its furry head. eventually we’ll hear everything. “Grandma. Grandma must have sensed my discomfort because she pressed the compress harder. “and it seems you’ve had ample opportunity to tell us a lot of things. You and certain others. sweetie..” She bent quotes around that last word. “As for how I’m involved in all of this.” she said. Somebody will be in soon to help explain this. “Well.” I said. After a moment I handed it to her. which she wrung tightly until the bones were visible. and there’s quite a bit to cover. “Let’s start with who gave me the bear. I just want to be sure you’re well enough to handle it. 234 . suddenly age as though realizing the weight of a massive burden. sweetie. I watched the woman who had raised me. and I would have admonished him to calm down but his rage blazed through my head and set it throbbing. Simple enough..DEAD BARCHETTA while they seal off the crime scene. I figured she could use it more. a woman whose vibrant personality betrayed her years.” Diane cleared her throat and up came a hand in a sheepish gesture. I’ve always grown my own.” In that second. and realized I still had the bear. is it? Pardon the pun. “I thought it might help.” “No. The redness in her eyes revealed lack of sleep—not just over this past week but after years of keeping secrets. With her wan smile and ghostly pale skin.” “Jesus. and I’m not connected.” Chad said. For the first time I noticed the dark splotches on her hands. he’s not dying. how is it that you know people in the Mafia? This isn’t how you seeded your magic brownie enterprise.” I knew he meant Terry.

When her gaze did finally pan toward the bed. Like Chad said.” I said. Lerxst. I guess I’ll come right out and say that I’m not who you think I am. talk.” she said finally. I wasn’t dying and my curiosity fueled my strength. and done to keep you safe. A knock.” A commotion in the other room caught her eye and she stood. drawn to the noise. She wore her badge clipped to the scooped neck of her dress. dare I say matronly. “I hope you can cut through the bush rather than beat around it. “I’m fine. for the love if Ged. “The hell?” I said. the vixen who’d spent the last two years speaking innuendo and plucking the wrong G-string appeared softer. confused as all get out. “You and Grandpa.” Instead of answering. More so when Grandma let out a wail and collapsed into his arms. and was surprised to see Mr.KATHRYN LIVELY “The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt my boys. “Every decision we made.” 235 . she dipped her head back outside and beckoned for someone. Cook walk with purpose and fill the remaining space with his tense aura.” “And your parents.” I didn’t feel so secure now. Cook backed away but didn’t let go of Grandma. and I wished I had that bear back. They hugged tightly and rocked together in a joyful rhythm that suited a joyful homecoming. “We. then the door opened wider and in walked Laila Cook. “I can do that. looking everywhere but at me.” I got in before anyone else could speak for me. We are really getting into a weird area here.” Mr. it was for you and Chad. Chad looked how I felt. I expected Terry. and though she carried the exhaustion and intensity of the last thirty minutes with her she maintained her graceful posture and step. I don’t know what she heard to cause her hand to press her heart but it was enough to get me to sit up again. “How is he?” she asked the room. “Somebody.

You need closure as well. nudging Laila for permission to exit. “No.. “Diane. I’m an actor. Chad. you’re another US Marshal. this is a family moment.” Mr. meanwhile.” “All for show. “But you died. Cook—Dad. Chad. I shouldn’t. “This involves you. BFD. **** So that explained my grandmother’s jubilance. How could I blame him.DEAD BARCHETTA “Yeah. hunched over and hands in pockets. “It’s okay. I opened my eyes to see the dream hadn’t changed. My dad didn’t die. too..” The air turned cold.” Still I waved her closer. Only difference was that Chad now sat up in bed with me and Diane had moved to toward the door. “No. who nodded. He took a few steps forward and sat next to me.” Chad said.” Sighing. and why I had to be revived a second time. Somebody stole your identity.” He shook his head. My name is—” “Alan Peterson. stared into space. don’t leave. since he was one whammy up on me for the day? We had a long way to go until the end. “There was a funeral. but I do.” I called. Holy fuck. if I could believe that—said. his eyes like wet glass. “I’m George Johnston. Lerxst might not remember. I bet. “The government faked our deaths to assist a smoother transition into witness protection. Diane wavered a moment before finding a seat at the desk chair. she looked at Laila.” 236 .” She smiled sadly. flinching when Grandma reached forward.” George Johnston.

since it was more social than anything.” he continued. We last left her on Twitter on critical condition. “Your mother and I worked in New York as actors. He didn’t know the consequences.” Lana.” Dad continued.” 237 . the three of us got on well. “Long story short. shit. a man I formerly knew as an urban comic superhero? He shrugged.” “Grandma told us you were a teacher and you traveled to tutor different subjects. I did a lot of commercials back in the day. “That’s how I met Alan and Lana.” I said. “When you two were born we lengthened the stretches while we tried to decide whether or not to keep you with us in the city. Emil’s dead. I suppose having to deal with the occasional concealment of cannabis helped my coping mechanism here. “What did Terry do to her?” “She’s going to be fine. “Terry didn’t poison her. “I coached other actors. “We didn’t see anything subversive about it at first. “Alan and I were hanging at Emil’s commune one night and eavesdropped on a heated conversation between him and Benny. coming home to the beach in between gigs. guest shots on TV also. so I guess it’s partially true. and together with your mother we got involved in the Harmony Church through another actor.KATHRYN LIVELY Too surreal. My gaze darted to Laila. “Anyway. We both knew it wasn’t coincidence. Not until Benny Manzione got involved did we suspect there might be unsavory activities connected to the group. he merely added a sedative to her drink which reacted to her meds. Two days later.” Chad stiffened beside me.” “Code Blue?” He nodded. Was I really talking to my dead father.” he sighed.” Laila said.

don’t. then? It damn sure isn’t the blonde. “Why did you perpetuate this lie? We’ve lived all this time believing we’d been orphaned when we were really abandoned. twining his fingers. After our part was done. We argued for weeks about this. “Your grandmother has had this on her soul for twenty years.” our father snapped. Alan and I served to help nail the coffin. These decisions were made to keep you boys safe. folding his arms tight. My brother shot me a WTF glare. but what could I do? The man lost his family. Florida with new drivers’ licenses.” he said quietly.” 238 .. and I’d like to hear her side of it.. and when Laila and Grandma followed suit I knew this wasn’t going to be happy news.” His voice broke. “They caught it too late.” “Holy Christ. “Chad. son. and unconsciously I reached across Chad to grasp his shoulder. accusing him. and we lost him thanks to these nut jobs.” Jerry said sternly. but the Feds liked him more for other crimes where they had stronger evidence. “So.” Chad said dryly. your mother and I were shipped off to Fort Pierce. Second worst damn day of my life.” Dad looked down. Then to Grandma. but we figured everybody concerned would have a better rate of survival if we separated.” “I’m flattered. where’s Mom. “In exchange for protection?” “We both did.” “That is not true and you know it. she declined so rapidly. “The last thing we wanted to do was leave our children. Just talking exhausted him. the boyfriend knew and we didn’t. “Why didn’t you take us?” Chad said. “Your mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer five years ago.” Chad pinched the bridge of his nose.DEAD BARCHETTA “Did you testify against him in court to get him put away?” I asked.

and ostensibly kept tabs on you that way. and he asked for that name when we entered protection.” My father turned to me. and Jerry held Grandma when she tried to follow.” He bolted from the bed. weren’t planted there. I didn’t want to see who. either. “Those postcards for your band’s performances found at Alan’s home. “Let him go. She didn’t smile.” “Makes sense. He needs to cool down. and your hair sample. “Nice.” he said tersely. He didn’t resemble 239 .” I closed my eyes briefly to recall my only conversation with Alan Peterson. and even evaded the Feds for a time until he turned up near you. Diane crawled next to me. Chad didn’t share in their sorrow. “Maybe he felt he owed it to your family.” he said.” he said. pushing back our father and Jerry on the way out. “we get her back only to lose her again. squeezing the bear between us.” “We think he wanted to watch over you boys. either?” I asked. “Not immediately. never said why. “It’s a lot for him to take at once. “He wasn’t too fond of life on the lam. “You remember Matt Johnston of Norfolk?” “No shit!” “He was your godfather.” Laila said. and I beckoned Diane to sit close. So weird I put my trust in someone I knew only for a few days—longer than I really knew my own father.KATHRYN LIVELY People sniffled. Voices in both rooms called after him.” Dad shrugged. He followed your career. Dad looked up at Laila.” I thought back to that so-called evidence the Virginia Beach cops had found. “He made it about twenty years before one of Manzione’s flunkies got to him. “So Alan Peterson didn’t die.” His face turned to stone. I needed a friendly face and arm for support. The hair strand probably was left on the cards when you dropped them off around town. Laila read my mind.

” “Diane…er. She was a junior member of the church.” she said. I promise you. “Alan did not. the responsibility placed in her by church higher-ups baffled me.” Laila said. “There were the gay rumors. but apparently she didn’t quite understand her job.” Dad said. got tired of living my life without my boys. yes. now that I think about it. He wanted to say something that night.” “Damn fine job you did of that. I spent five years undercover in the family working to gain their trust—it took me three of those years to convince them I should be the one tailing you when Benny left prison. whom we learned was sent by the church to assist in watching you when Benny was released. too.” “Well. Francine tried to kill me. though he smiled at me. “Did he have children?” I asked. Francine…?” I tested the name. feeling bad when Laila hung her head. I went to the Marshals and 240 . “Francine Reilly. You were never in any danger from—” “Did you tell the other Matt that. watching for Laila’s reaction. I let Benny believe I dispatched her. “How did you end up as Mr.” I muttered. Lifelong bachelor. too?” To Dad. or Alan Peterson. I’d say he was more asexual. “and of course she ended up under our radar.DEAD BARCHETTA any of the pictures I’d seen of him in his early days. too!” “Lerxst. “In fact. but knowing Alan as long as I had. I got tired of hiding. I doubt Matt Johnston. and figured he had plastic surgery to throw the Mafia off track. I bet. Cook?” “Simple. yes. “The one thing I didn’t count on was Francine’s mental issues. He looked sad. not much interested in seeing people socially. would speak much praise for the abilities of the FBI and the US Marshals. I asked. I’m sure being on the lam supported his reluctance to get into a relationship.

Had she walked into my studio in disguise as well? People with secret families.” he added. and he shot a dark glance at Laila.” I stood and closed my eyes to fight off a wave of nausea. “if I didn’t have Juliet. “Your. usually turn out to be exiled royalty. not quite.. 241 .” My heart deflated and wrapped around my ribcage. She rose to my side and we looped arms. She’s seventeen now. “I didn’t much care for how the Feds were handling things.” Oh.” His shoulders hunched.” I cringed at that. “Okay. I think I’ve had enough soulful revelations for one lifetime. Fat chance of that happening to me. Hands reached to steady me but I swatted at them. We were almost to the door when a man. blocked our passage.KATHRYN LIVELY threatened to give myself up if I couldn’t at least see how you were doing. “before Darth Vader arrives with a sex tape I don’t remember making.. quite a familiar one. but their outlines served as a gruesome reminder of how close my family came to non-existence.. where inspection and cataloging of the crime scene continued.” I announced. a musician like you. “I’m going for a walk. Both bodies had been carted away. If the church got to me. I had a sister somewhere who might one day perpetuate the lineage. “I tell you. His short brown hair crowned a concerned expression highlighted the same soft blue eyes of that homeless Presario who guarded the Lennon memorial. I’d once thought. fine. hearing Chad’s words about our mother pounding in my ears.” We brushed past stunned faces into the living room. calling instead for Diane. Well.wife?” He shook his head.. “Your sister. this was just getting better and better. and it got to a point where I figured I might as well be dead if my family believed it.

**** “Tell me something. CIA. just increased my pace. only a twisted holiday melody.” The seriousness in my voice set her off pace. “You mean you don’t know?” I shouted back as we hit daylight.” I also mentioned the pseudo-homeless man from Central 242 . or the FDIC. none of which are in law enforcement. they know when I’m awake. I believe you. a member of the FBI.DEAD BARCHETTA “You alright.” I said to her.” “Are you a cop?” She laughed at that. but she quickly fell back into step with me.” she said.” “Okay. I am not now.” I laughed. “Where you headed?” he called after us. to pay my lingering art school debts. “I promise you. “Why would you ask me that? Do I look like a cop?” “I don’t know what an undercover cop looks like. I used to think they didn’t look like Laila Cook. No snappy response formed in my head. offered a sad smile. “You didn’t answer my question. Lerxst?” he asked. I didn’t look up. Diane.” “UPS?” She shrugged. nor have I ever been. “Sure. almost the same way Laila did. Who can chase bad guys in the heels she wears?” “There’s a reason they’re called killer. “One summer in my teens. Brown did nothing for me.” Diane nodded. “I am a thirty-five-year-old musician slogging through several jobs at once. They know when I’ve been sleeping. I said nothing. Nudging Diane. I led the way out and down the stairs. “It’s just curious that you latched onto me. the KGB. her arm still wrapped around mine.

” Diane snorted. you’re the only one who’s been completely honest with me. right?” “Thank you for wording it that way and not bringing up my age. “You’re not bothered?” “Are you?” She smirked and held the door open to the main building. hell no. “You know something?” I said.possibilities. “And now?” “Now.” “Not even in Jersey?” She didn’t take kindly to the crack. like a liquid Yankee Candle mixed with milk. fudgy brownies from one bakery and took seats in a tea cafe. “I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. I’ll admit. After about fifteen or so minutes of the promised nonsensical chit chat. The place had a calming yet commercial Zen atmosphere. “and mainly to escape boredom. **** We picked up a few thick. “I wouldn’t mind sitting for a drink and discussing. I hung around partly to get my ID theft resolved.” She said it with all sincerity. Chai tasted foreign to me. my brother kept his sexual preference from us 243 .. and ordered a couple chai drinks. Oh. with pan flute music piped in from ceiling speakers and low bench seating that nearly inspired me to remove my shoes first.KATHRYN LIVELY Park and wondered aloud about others I’d met on this journey. “Well.” “Is it? My own grandmother lied to me nearly my entire life. I steeled myself with a long pull from my glass mug.” “You know I’m quite a bit younger than you. “Of all the people in my life right now. Not every day a girl is held at gunpoint. so I then asked.” she guided me across a stalled intersection and I saw we had reached the Chelsea Market..” Diane said.

yet when he turned I realized the position 244 . “They could have. “Have you considered what it’s been like for everybody else? Do you think your family was happy to keep you in the dark?” “They could have told me. The remark irritated me. and tentatively stretched my hand across the table.” I told her. and what? First chance you get you run off to look for them and put your parents and yourself at risk. Fuck. better. I picked up on Terry instantly. “Well. and Dad and Mom. but I understand their reasoning. despite how much they’d pissed me off. arms folded. Laila Cook probably isn’t a genuine blonde.” Diane said. pretending to study the shelves of tea containers. and they still love you. The simple act of wrapping her hand around mine spoke of genuine feelings. Diane was amazingly the real deal. I wanted to approach Diane with caution—if she were a Fed. thanks for walking out here with me.” Diane set down her drink and leaned back. “It’s nice somebody can find humor in this. some of them in bed. unlike the two suits hanging in the background.” I knew that. Yet.. One would think by now I shouldn’t act with such hesitation toward a woman who’d willingly spent the better part of twelve hours next to me. I could keep a secret.” I grumbled. “I can’t say I can sympathize...” Diane pursed her lips. No. I still loved them. Maybe I’d have lived my life differently. his stance and how the brightness of his hair stood out among the muted beiges and nature color scheme of the place. knowing my parents were somewhere hoping I was well. His companion—tall with short dark hair—had his back to me. I saw lead roots there..” “I doubt it myself.DEAD BARCHETTA and lied about Terry. she no longer had a reason to keep up a facade.

. He told me it was Han.” I said. you being a fan of my band.” The tone of his voice implied he meant business. “Agent Han Li-Xing. choosing instead to hover at either side.KATHRYN LIVELY must have been for dramatic effect. “Laila and I were assigned to shadow you by our respective branches in anticipation of Benny Manzione’s release. My groupie-cum-chauffeur and guitar dealer now grinned sheepishly at us and flashed his creds.” “I knew it was too good to be true. “Okay.” he said in introduction.” I shook my head. catty corner to our chairs. “exactly how many people are on the Operation Lerxst payroll? I picked out the homeless guy in Central Park. you’ve met. I gestured to each of them as I spoke to Diane. They quick-stepped to our table but didn’t sit. “Terry.” ask them where they’re hiding James Caan. not unlike the unmasking of a Scooby Doo villain. “Please tell me you at least took a course in bus driving before you let all those people put their lives in your hands and lead feet. amazed to think this guy likely play-acted years off his true age just to keep me safe and ignorant of my surroundings. next time I’m approached by a “number one fan.I can’t be sure of his name. too. FBI. I watched the mild creasing in his brows smooth back. answer this for me.” “Hey. “You’re welcome to join us if you want. I used to drive the Chinatown routes from here to Boston every weekend for five years.” I began.. who else? The artificial limb guy?” 245 . relishing their sudden discomfort. “You mean how I seemed to pop up wherever you were in such a large city?” “No. It paid for my undergrad degree. “but this gentleman.” I called over. directing my glare at both of them.” Yep.” Note to self. He frowned. Somewhere in the course of the brief trip to our table his accent had disappeared.

” “I see. who was the agency psychic? Han shrugged. really. She got half the job done. he continued. “And the local cops who came to my studio before Francine killed herself?” I asked. No doubt they knew the clean-up crew would arrive soon enough. The fuckers. as though the extra boost in oxygen might stimulate inspiration.” I thought back to Eduardo and his lady friend. but when we found out Francine took that bus down to Virginia Beach—” “On my credit card. Pocketing it.” This from Han. “Because Matt Johnston’s death fell under their jurisdiction.” Terry took a breath. we anticipated you might try some sleuthing and contacted the area clinics. “and you let her run amok and kill one man.” Diane cut in. who now palmed his Android and tapped at the screen. We had it on good authority that Manzione planned to hunt your parents down when he got out. “We didn’t.” Not entirely. I thought. Couldn’t wait to hear this excuse. 246 . “We didn’t let them in on anything until after you left. We were lucky the Harmony Church sent somebody incompetent to assist.” “How did you know I’d take the Chinatown bus to New York?” Seriously. Why did you never intervene?” Yeah. “Once we realized you had the girl’s leg. “you have to understand our position here. With the possibility of Manzione having other people watching your family— aside from Laila whom we planted—we couldn’t just give ourselves away on a whim. it took some convincing to get them to stop sniffing your trail. using you as bait if necessary. and their eagerness to see me away without a police investigation. and nearly a second one. “Guys. We tracked your car and kept the airport and Greyhound people on alert. somewhat.DEAD BARCHETTA Terry shook his head. They already knew to expect you.

“have you ever wondered how your grandmother was able to grow marijuana all this time without being caught?” Diane raised an eyebrow at that. at least. We saw to that. we’d have intervened. The US Marshals have watched your house for a long time. provided she followed the rules. The VB cops have known for years to turn a blind eye to it. shit happens.” Just what I needed all my life. That’s how she was able to raise two orphaned boys on her own. It all goes to cancer patients. so I sure as hell wasn’t going to fink on her. “I figured she was just good at hiding it. “We’re human. “Lerxst. “You guys?” “The government. Your grandmother cultivated that stuff for dispensaries where medicinal weed is legal. thinking about how well he watched over Chad. “please trust us when we say that you were never in any danger.” “Who do you think gave her the weed in the first place?” Now my brows touched the ceiling. but he made his choices by trying to go it alone.” he finally took a seat next to Diane. If you were in any true danger of Francine. Then again. I sneered at Terry.” Diane read my mind. their neglect in helping me with Francine would have kept me from meeting Diane. Not saying he deserved to be killed.” Terry added. We watched over Chad. Lerxst. Having somebody kick my front door down a few days ago might have prevented all of this. another big brother.” Han said with an edge of sadness. But please.” Obviously these guys were very trusting. and broke his heart to save my brother’s ass. I owed them that. A 247 .KATHRYN LIVELY “Alan Peterson should be so lucky. and your grandmother when she traveled. but I just shrugged. “but Peterson didn’t make it easy for us to help him by evading our watch.

“The call log and texts revealed several conversations with the church higher-ups. for both masters. She knew she fucked up when she killed Alan and took the easy way out before they could put the hit on her.” Terry said.” I flashed back to the other night Francine spent in my house. Starring Betty White as Grandma. free for any sniper to cap him. but changed his mind and his hand dropped to his side.” Han said. I could have filled at least twenty cafe napkins with the treatment of an incredible HBO miniseries. shit. “We found her mobile phone on her. My job. your role in all of this was as a double agent.” He nodded. I looked up at Terry. perhaps—at least now Chad would live to find somebody worthy of him.” He reached into his inside suit pocket to fetch something.” I really should have been writing all this down.” 248 . “Oh. He detected my silent annoyance.” “Yeah. It definitely heightened her sex appeal. more than just your eyes. both biding your time until Benny said pounce?” “Pretty much. “You didn’t get a Francine to make your life hell?” “Francine was a church loyalty test that failed. and wondered how much of that the US Marshals enjoyed watching on their surveillance cameras. and that ultimately killed Francine. was to keep an eye on your brother until Benny came back with instructions. Killing Lerxst would only have served to keep George in hiding. too? Laila tailed me and you Chad. “So you just let Lerxst out in the open. “So. and quietly took the seat Han now vacated so we could speak on an even keel.” Diane sounded protective and angry.DEAD BARCHETTA grand trade-off. “They meant to torture George Johnston and dangle his kids like carrots until he showed his face. “The Mafia doesn’t work that way.

” He sighed and 249 .” I watched for his reaction. “I was assigned to work this case months ago.” “I’m sure you told them differently.” he said. loud enough to turn every head in the cafe.” “Are you even gay?” I couldn’t imagine how my brother might take that kind of deceit.KATHRYN LIVELY Diane cleared her throat and lifted her empty mug by way of avoiding the TMI turn in conversation. and with all the activity going on back at the apartment. “You should have gone after Chad. Lerxst. “If you’ll excuse me.. leaving me alone with Terry.” “Do you blame him? He thought he found somebody who wanted to be with him. “Your grandmother and father are worried about you. given this ID theft is related to the case.. but something happened.” A pained sigh slipped out and he looked damn close to tears. “I am going to get my refill to go while Agent Li-Xing tells me how the FBI can go about helping to restore my credit rating.” “Does he know that?” “Chad won’t let me get a word in. “They were wondering if you ran off again. The man lowered his gaze. and figured he made a call.” “Gladly.” I added.. he returned not long after you left. to watch over Chad and others involved.” Terry announced. “Yes. How much of that was real as opposed to the job?” “Lerxst. I never would have let it get that far with your brother if I didn’t have feelings for him. like Lana Buxton. and instead he got somebody assigned to him. “after all you put him through. So yes.. He hunched low and added. I am. it was business in the beginning. drumming his fingers on the table. “He threw me out.” she rose.” “Chad didn’t get far.” In seconds they were up and away.

I suppose everybody is allowed one transgression. I’ve never known him to hold a grudge. it may bode well for you as well. and I admit I did feel for him. Assuming Chad forgave him. “I did mean what I said to you before.” 250 . “I don’t know if I’ll go back. a smile slightly brightening his face. I’ve never had a case affect me like this.” I doubted Chad would take well to be referred to as a case. “You and me both.” I said as Terry raised his gaze.” Terry nodded. and the grandmother I thought I knew. “Once this is closed I’m going on leave. I’ll talk to my brother.” he added. Why tell me all of this if he wasn’t sincere? The guy did cook well. would he want to continue a relationship with a man in a dangerous job? “Look. but I had to hand it to Terry: he thought through to the future.” My mind focused back on the father and sister I didn’t know. too. “I can’t promise anything. and had genuinely seemed to care for Chad before he pulled a gun on him to play psycho cult man. and considering all the crap I’ve put him through over the years.DEAD BARCHETTA looked away. indefinitely. I’d love to be a part of your family. but when all this settles down.

with plans to come back to Hoboken in a month for a long weekend. Abe Lincoln also slept there. Of course. The owner of the bus. I discovered I’d have an easier time maintaining a long-distance relationship for a while. When the local media got hold of our story my joy ride with the Happy Tiger Express was mentioned.” Heh. The publicity worked wonders for my career as well. Within hours of the story hitting the Internet. about a 251 . Her first order of business. bypassed the super when she called a locksmith herself. After a nice “until we meet again” dinner and a matinee seating at Mamma Mia so we could hear her perform (and she far outshone the others in her hidey-hole orchestra pit) I packed up that next morning and set out with Grandma and Jerry back home. he offered me a lifetime free seat. indirectly. however. I got a replacement key to her apartment via Priority Mail and the security code. who’d allowed Han to masquerade as a driver. round trip. I went to the restaurant to book my next trip and discovered I’d be riding the bus “as seen on CSI. Thanks to Han. A week later. To show his appreciation. but I didn’t wish for her to become the occasional one-line retort to my Facebook status. I didn’t expect her to quit her job and run away with me. consequently enjoyed a surge in fares through next year.KATHRYN LIVELY Chapter Twenty-One One month later Probably the most difficult thing I faced in leaving New York was leaving Diane.

” “House isn’t as big as it used to be. picking at his mashed potatoes. but Lerxst needs his space. and we 252 . proved quite emotional nonetheless. and several new prospects filled the lobby on my first official day back at work. Once my father cleared up his business with the US Marshals. Ged help me. offered to slide us in on the Saturday Elvis and Friends concert series. nothing replaced family. “then we’ll have to find a place to live. but the thought of waiting endless hours for the bathroom every morning… “The house is fine. The committee organizing the annual Neptune Festival. Looks like this September the spirit of radio is with the King. “I do have some affairs to settle in Florida. Don’t think for one second you both aren’t welcome. and adding a teenaged girl to the mix…” I withered.” Grandma said. considering the argument over.” Grandma said. couldn’t be avoided.DEAD BARCHETTA dozen former students who’d once convinced themselves they couldn’t play a chord to save their lives called to inquire about taking lessons again. “You know there’s plenty of room here. argued. need to get Juliet up here. Some topics. but eventually peeled back our souls to expose them during a few good intense conversations.” Dad said one night. Our reunion. “Besides. of course. he came to stay with us for a few weeks. which had consistently passed on adding Dead Barchetta to their entertainment line-up. We talked. while not the tearful joyfest worthy of a very special episode of Oprah. ate dinners in awkward silence. clearly shocked to hear such a suggestion.” Dad gestured around the kitchen—with the four of us there it certainly looked full. “It was different living here part-time with two little boys. along with Chad. real estate is nuts here. who was granted a leave of absence from his job given the circumstances.” “You have a place to live.

When I first returned home. just knowing a woman had taken her life in my sanctuary creeped the hell out of me. **** Today. Chad shook his head. “I’ll be fine. right?” He speared another asparagus for his plate. but with more people living here. reacquainting myself with my ES-355.” “You want me to come up for a few days?” I asked. found me back in my studio. Some wounds. Much easier to do when everybody is in one place. if you’re looking for somebody—” His glare hit me hard. and I feared coming back to Francine Reilly’s ghost hanging from the ceiling. 253 . like a knife tipped in ice. unlike the mild one I suffered that day in Chad’s apartment. hadn’t yet healed completely. Even though the Virginia Beach police had cleared the place so it looked like nothing had happened here. and I want to go back. I could use some alone time. “You do know I’m going back to New York eventually. One thing at a time. It might help me. Jack offered to trade rooms. and I muttered a quick “never mind” before returning to dinner. but eventually I declined. this quiet Sunday.” Chad spoke up.” “Actually. I’ve spent enough time away from work.KATHRYN LIVELY have twenty years to make up. I decided. too. thinking of how I could slip away to see Diane. I had a feeling I’d need it regularly. as the first order of business after dinner would be asking around for a good handyman to build a stall around the outdoor shower in our backyard. “I’m thinking sooner than later. this was the last place I wanted to see. before I start looking for a roommate. The dead couldn’t hurt me. and I wouldn’t let them try. We used it mainly after beach trips.

and my father.” I smiled. Unlock this damn door and I’ll show you. and though my band mates understood I didn’t want to slack off and disappoint them. shining hair and willowy build once before—in the pictures of my parents that 254 .” She laughed. Still. let it be known that the Manzione family had pretty much distanced themselves from Benny after he got involved in Harmony Church. “Hah. Halfway through “Sugar Magnolia. I saw Laila brought along some friends. My infamy as the beach bum who stopped the mob attracted interest among club owners as far south as Ashville. except for the young woman following my father and glancing nervously at her surroundings.DEAD BARCHETTA Chad’s visit and the influx of new students had left me little time to practice. so I shouldn’t expect retaliation. Agent Doug Worth. “When will you remember you haven’t apologized for calling me untalented?” “When I remember a time you actually proved you did. Everybody else carried an instrument as well. especially with offers for gigs pouring in. I greeted her with. here the legend way exceeded the truth—I didn’t really stop anybody. “I realized a few days ago I never apologized for calling you a cunt.” my phone rang. also known as the guardian of the Lennon Memorial. A third gentleman—tall and fit in blue jeans and a long-sleeved Yankees shirt—looked familiar until he turned my way and revealed himself as Agent Worth. ma’am.” Yes. Looking through the glass panels of the studio front. Of course. my Central Park partner…clean shaven and toting a guitar case. I recognized Han. I’d seen her long blonde. displaying Laila Cook’s number. it doesn’t stop me from checking under my car or praying a Hail Mary before I crank the engine.

“I’ll try not to disappoint you. but since this was my day off… “We’ll have to have a first jam before that.” “Actually. I don’t know why visions of Simon Cowell banging his head against a pole surfaced in my mind.” she said and pulled away.” “You’ll never do that. Already I felt the need to protect her as a brother should. I didn’t wait for an introduction. “Really?” I arched an eyebrow. I held open the door for everybody.” Do what? Well. “Dad says you play.” Heh. You’re on my friend list. I wish I could say the same.” Dad said. “Hi. it’s probably because you haven’t seen the act.” Laila lifted her case. I locked the studio again. coming to pat her on the shoulder. Surely she didn’t take the cautious greeting as an insult.” She looked at me. as though she might cry. Juliet. Being famous and all. scanning the group.” she whispered in my ear. and the second she stepped inside I extended my hand. “Well. I have to warn you that my price went up. “I’ve been waiting for this day all my life. “Well.” “I have so. I did now. the three of us are finishing up our business at the beach and heading back to the New York bureau. if you guys are here for a lesson. the demand is greater. spontaneous friendings. To Juliet. but not to spoil the moment I said. but to assure her I extended that arm wide and she eagerly fell into the half embrace.” she laughed. “I’ve seen every video you’ve posted on Facebook. and I made a mental note to check my account to see how many other long lost relatives connected to me through unconscious.” I said. you know.KATHRYN LIVELY Grandma had kept. then at my hand. too?” 255 . “Juliet’s your number one fan. “We were hoping for one last jam.

” she said. He slipped on the strap. I see guitars all around. “See if you can catch up.DEAD BARCHETTA She shrugged. who’d inspired him to pick up the guitar.” I ducked back into my studio for my acoustic. “How long did you plan to keep that from me?” “Hey.” Seconds later I felt something cold on my chin and realized it was the floor.” The mood in the room turned lighter. One by one latches unhooked to reveal some impressive equipment—Gibson Masterbilts for Han and Worth. “I almost had Laila bring it in one day for a lesson. just to see if you’d recognize it. “Wow. “Would you have given lessons to somebody who can actually play better than you?” Kitty had claws. in high school band. but right now I didn’t want to see anybody else but my father playing the same model played by Jimmy Page. I needed a cover. “We’ll soon see about that.” 256 . which leaves an opening for lead cowbell if you’re interested. and Dad’s own Martin D45. “I’d seen pictures of this.” “Well. and I took in the ornate pickguard and abalone inlays as though admiring some holy relic. “What the hell…?” Several more curses slipped mutely past before I found my voice again.” she retorted. Grandma said it was lost in the car crash. Not really jam material. “I prefer my own ‘axe.” he said. “Percussion.” Dad held it up for my inspection. taking his seat.’ thank you very much. then led them to the large studio in the back and settled everybody in chairs in a semi-circle. and let go with a smooth intro to “Classical Gas. and fingers hit fret boards to respond to the challenge.” Growing up I’d fantasized about inheriting it.

B and F sharp again. but ultimately that couldn’t define him wholly. and how happier she seemed to have her family whole again. Just as well she stayed in Jersey now. followed by Laila and the rest. with or without Terry. but Chad didn’t need to rush into a rebound just yet. THE END 257 .KATHRYN LIVELY B chord. I will get by. In that moment I stopped blaming outside forces from keeping her from us. She would have loved this. Assuredly he’d seek solace in his work. I will survive… Yes. Returning to the session. “Who knows the words?” I called out. we will. and thanked a higher one for allowing me to live and share her future. I saw Dad’s face brighten first and he joined in quickly. We hit the refrain with an energy that shook the walls. F sharp. When he called the other day to announce a friend had offered to move in. I decided when I did go back up next month I’d spend time with my brother to help figure out things. I saw Diane floating before me. swaying and singing with natural grace. and after the second loop of the intro we were all singing the Dead’s “Touch of Grey. I watched Juliet tapping the cowbell with a drumstick. I thought of my grandmother and the secrets that burdened her for years. I thought of my brother and wished for him to find that same healing. and instinct proved correct when Chad identified him. I thought of my old dance partner Craig.” I closed my eyes and let the synchronized harmonies wash over me and lift the stress that had weighed down my heart this last month. because clearly we all believe it. I liked Craig fine. and fit right in with that vintage Rick. then the C sharp. rather than leave me brushing away Federal agents for her attentions.

DEAD BARCHETTA Lerxst will return in DEAD SECTOR A 258 .

com/LivelyWriter 259 .facebook.com/kathrynlively http://twitter.com http://www. She lives in Virginia. http://www.kathrynlively.KATHRYN LIVELY About the Author Kathryn Lively is an award-winning author and editor of romance and mystery.

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