When Taylor, driving Steffie’s car, arrived at his father’s home, all was gray and quiet. It was an hour until sundown and a fog lay thick over the bay and marshy suburb. Taylor pulled into the driveway beside his father’s car, shut off the ignition, and sat for a quiet moment. He felt oddly calm. The horrible weight of denial had smothered him for more than a year, and now it felt like the truth was sitting next to him, ugly, nasty and wise.
He extricated himself from the car in an act of sheer willpower, as if his legs had forgotten how to walk. He pushed through the back gate, climbed onto the deck and pulled open the kitchen door.
Mariana, washing dishes, flashed him a cheerful smile.
“Is he home?” Taylor managed to say, his mouth sticky dry. His words sounded to him like hollow gongs in an echo chamber.
“He’s in the garage,” Mariana said. “Did you bring the kids?”
“They’re with Steffie.”
“Did they have a good time? There’s a hurricane down south.”
Taylor let himself in to the garage via the side door. His father, back turned, was fitting a battery into a big red electric drill while listening to the Emergency Weather Radio.
“I’m afraid this storm will take that old ash tree down,” his father said over his shoulder. “I’m going to rent a cherry picker and take it down myself. Want to come along?”
He turned around. That drill looked like a weapon in his hands.
Taylor shook his head.
“Insurance might not cover an Act of God,” his father said.
“Hurricane damage?” Taylor heard himself say. “Sure they will.”
“Not if it’s an Act of God. Mariana wants me to call the tree guy. As if we have the money for a tree guy.”
“I shot Butchie Block,” Taylor said.
His father glared at Taylor. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m the one who shot Butchie Block.”
His father set the drill down on the workbench. “I’ve told you over and over about those drugs.”
“I thought he was the one who … who did away with Mom.”
Father and son stood face to face. “This confession, if that’s what it is, is never going to leave this room. Do you hear me? You didn’t use my Walther, did you?”
Taylor shook his head.
“You didn’t sneak it out of the safe?”
“You followed this man to Poke Island and shot him? You and that Buchanan kid, I knew it would come to no good. Just what this family needs. Are you insane?”
“And now I know it should have been you.”
His father’s eyes grew fierce. “What does that mean?”
“You know what it means.”
“You’d better start speaking plain English. If you’ve got an accusation to make, make it.”
“Guys?” Mariana poked her head in the side door. “Anyone for tea?”
“No!” father and son shouted in unison.
When Mariana closed the door, Taylor said: “Butchie didn’t kill her. You did.”
His dad sputtered. “You think I’ve never heard this before? You think I’m deaf to the gossips? You think I don’t know the police have suspected me all along? And now I have to hear this from my own son?”
Taylor shoved his father. “Why did you do it? Why not just divorce her, if that’s what you wanted?”
Dan Burns backed away, pushed a stool aside, and it fell over with a clatter. “I won’t serve a day in prison, I guarantee you that.”
“So you admit it.”
His father broke the intense eye contact and stared at the clean-swept concrete floor.
“You know I can’t swim,” he said.
“What does that mean?”
“She fell. She fell overboard. I couldn’t save her. I’d been waiting for her at the ferry dock. I didn’t like her coming home late all alone. When I saw the ferry had already tied up I was afraid for her. She was trapped all night on the island. So I borrowed a boat and rowed out there to rescue her, me, despite my fear of the water, and I ended up … I threw a life jacket in and she never came up.”
He covered his face with his hands. “I wish I had jumped in and drowned with her. Forgive me, Taylor, I couldn’t tell the truth. I was afraid of the truth, that was my only crime.”
He began to sob. “She was my best friend, and I sat in the boat while she drowned. In fear of the water, it was all my fear of the water.”
“You disgust me,” said Taylor.
Dan knocked him aside as he rushed the door. Taylor was struck by a fear that his father was going for the gun in his den. But Dan hopped into his black Lincoln Navigator and tore backward out of the driveway, spun the car around and roared up the suburban street.
Mariana popped out of the side door.
“Is something wrong?”
Taylor stared at her. Maybe she was the kind, helpful soul she seemed to be. Or maybe she had helped plot his mother’s murder. The shadow of suspicion was already becoming a permanent stain.
“The kids are not coming back here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ask your lover.”
Taylor slid into Stephanie’s car started it with a roar and jammed it into reverse.