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Bodily Harm: A Novel: Chapter 2


KENDALL TOYYS’ CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS

RENTON, WASHINGTON

Kendall’s board of directors filed into the conference room looking perplexed and anxious. They filled the blue leather chairs around the table and at the back of the room beneath portraits of Constantine and Aristotle Kendall, the two founding brothers, as well as Constantine’s son, Sebastian Senior, and his son, Sebastian Junior. Fitzgerald’s portrait did not yet hang among the hallowed, and he knew some in the room, congregating at the far end of the table around Arian Santoro, believed it never would.

Earlier that morning, Fitzgerald had received another e-mail from Maxine Bolelli and her tone had become increasingly less cordial as Fitzgerald rejected her advances. She had increased Galaxy’s stock offer, which she referred to as a “gift” in light of Kendall’s “horrific” third-quarter losses, and demanded that Fitzgerald and Kendall’s board of directors respond by the end of the business day.

As the hastily called meeting got under way, Santoro quickly steered the discussion to Kendall’s third-quarter losses and the rumors that Galaxy Toys sought to acquire the company. Fitzgerald had not shared Maxine Bolelli’s overtures with any member of the board except Irwin Dean, his president of operations, and, of course, Sebastian Kendall. Santoro’s knowledge of the confidential discussions, despite those precautions, and the timing of Bolelli’s most recent e-mail—just before an unannounced board meeting—further confirmed Fitzgerald’s suspicion that he had a mole trenching through his company.

“Galaxy has made an offer,” Fitzgerald confirmed, “point seven shares of stock in Galaxy for every share of Kendall.”

The revelation, or perhaps Fitzgerald’s candor, brought silence—no doubt because every person in the room was at that moment mentally calculating how much money they stood to make if the board accepted the offer.

Santoro wasted little time. “In light of the most recent profit statement, I think we have to seriously consider such an offer.” Santoro’s strategic decision to sit at the far end of the table was intended to symbolize the chasm between his and Fitzgerald’s positions. “It’s our fiduciary duty to advise the stockholders of any reasonable offer.”

“The losses have to be put in perspective,” Fitzgerald replied. “Nearly sixty percent can be attributed to the overprojection of the sales figures for Lupo.” He referred to an action figure Kendall had created in conjunction with the summer opening of a major motion picture. The Lupo team, of which Santoro had ultimate oversight, had estimated revenues to top $26 million, but the movie bombed, and they had fallen short by nearly $24 million. “If those losses are backed out, we actually made a slight profit. In light of the continued transition, that is something we can build on.”

Santoro scoffed. “Unfortunately, that type of accounting would land us all in jail, along with our accountants.” His minions laughed. “If we’re looking to back anything out, why not back out our manufacturing plant in Mossylog. Our manufacturing costs remain three to four times higher than our competitors’.”

Sebastian Kendall had resisted shipping Kendall’s manufacturing needs to China and South America; his father and grandfather had served in the army, and the Kendalls considered themselves true patriots. Sebastian called it blasphemous to suggest that Sergeant Smash be manufactured by anyone other than American workers. That company policy, however, had recently changed, at least on a limited basis, though no one in the room but Fitzgerald knew it.

Fitzgerald calmly lifted a wrapped package from beneath the table, placed it on the wood surface, and deliberately opened the box, drawing the board members’ attention. He stood the ruby red, eighteen-inch figure on the mahogany surface, which he had ordered polished that morning so the overhead recessed lights would dramatically spot the toy.

While protocol would have been to seek director approval prior to creating a new prototype, protocol had been sacrificed with a mole loose in the building. The toy had been developed under a cloak of secrecy at an off-site, non-Kendall facility to prevent a leak that could allow another company to steal the design and beat Kendall to the market with a knockoff. Initial focus groups had also been limited, and their opinions, which had been off the charts, had been provided only to Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald placed the remote control on the table, and flipped a switch. The action figure came to life, marching forward, turning and marching back, its red eyes flashing. Nobody looked particularly impressed.

Then Fitzgerald said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Metamorphis.”

With another flip of the switch a robotic voice said “Metamorphis,” and the pieces of the figure began to swivel and turn as if bewitched, folding under and over one another until the robot had vanished and what remained on the glistening tabletop was a ruby red tank, complete with turret and long gun. Sebastian Kendall had taught Fitzgerald that the toy business was as much about entertainment as it was about toys, and entertainment was about surprising one’s audience.

Fitzgerald directed the tank to roll the length of the table, then adjusted the turret until the gun pointed directly between Santoro’s eyes. Santoro looked to his minions but their gaze remained transfixed on the toy. The turret emitted a loud pop! causing Santoro and several others to flinch. Moments of utter silence ensued, Fitzgerald watching and waiting. Then shouts of jubilation and applause filled the room and directors bolted from their chairs, rushing forward to ask questions. Others, smiling as bright as children awakening to find toys beneath the Christmas tree, surged for the toy box and began arguing over who got the control next.

THE TIN ROOM

BURIEN, WASHINGTON

THE FAVORABLE VERDICT had not eased Sloane’s doubts about the case, and not even a phone call from Tina telling him to meet her at the Tin Room, their favorite hangout in Burien, brought him any comfort.

The proprietor, Dan House, stood behind the bar beneath the sign that had formerly hung on the front of the building when it had been a tin shop, one of the oldest establishments in Burien. Patrons filled the barstools, some watching a Mariners game on the flatscreen hanging from the ceiling.

“Don’t want to ring the bell tonight,” Sloane said, surveying the large crowd and referring to the fireman’s bell near the entry to the kitchen. Ring it, and you bought everyone in the restaurant a drink.

House, a former European soccer star with an easy smile, gray curls to his collar, and an infectious laugh pointed to the bouquet of roses in Sloane’s hand. “David, you shouldn’t have.”

Sloane laughed. “Good, because I didn’t.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion. Just finished another trial.” He bought Tina roses after each of his trials, his way of acknowledging that work had interfered with their life, and he had not been the easiest person to live with.

House pointed toward the back of the restaurant, speaking over the music. “Well, she looks like a million bucks tonight. She’s waiting on the patio. What can I get you?”

“Beer would be great,” Sloane said.

The Tin Room was hopping, as usual, filled with Burien locals looking for a good meal or a chance to have a drink and unwind after work. Sloane pushed through the glass doors and stepped onto the newly added outdoor deck and patio. Getting a table when the summer weather was perfect was not easy, but Tina sat sipping a glass of water. She wore her white summer dress that, but for two spaghetti straps, showed off her tanned and toned shoulders and arms. She stood when she saw him, smiling brightly, wrapped her arms around his waist, and lifted onto her toes to kiss him.

Pulling back, she asked, “Hey, why the long face?” Her eyes widened. “You didn’t lose, did you?”

“No. We won.”

She sighed. “Thank God. I’m so happy for those poor people.”

“Me too.” Sloane knew that nothing would bring back the McFarlands’ six-year-old boy, but for the family, the jury’s verdict at least validated their decision to sue, erasing the silent stigma that they were nothing more than money-grubbing plaintiffs looking to capitalize on a tragedy.

Parting with another kiss, Sloane produced the bouquet of roses from behind his back.

Tina grinned. “For me?”

“Thanks for putting up with me,” he said.

Though Tina never complained about the late nights and long weekends, her accepting the roses made Sloane feel as though he was forgiven.

She kissed him again. “They’re beautiful.”

When they sat she handed him a postcard of the Roman Coliseum. Alex and Charles Jenkins had taken their delayed honeymoon, leaving Charles Junior with his grandmother in New Jersey. Alex had written a thoughtful synopsis of their visit to Rome. Under it, Charlie had scribbled a note.

Send blue cheese dressing. Sick of oil and vinegar.

“Sounds like they’re having a good time.”

“They’re in Venice. I called Alex today.”

“Wait a minute. Charlie pays for a fifty-cent postcard and I get a fifty-dollar phone bill. How does that happen?”

House appeared at their table with two menus and Sloane’s beer, but Sloane ordered from memory. “Meat loaf,” he said.

Tina ordered the crab cakes.

“You want a glass of chardonnay?” House asked.

“Just water,” Tina said.

“No wine?” Sloane asked. “I thought we must be celebrating something.”

“I have an early appointment tomorrow,” she said.

“Hey, that’s great. Big job?”

“Just a remodel here in town.” Tina’s architecture business had been slow with the economy in the toilet, and Sloane was happy she was bidding on a job again.

“How are things at home?” he asked.

She grimaced. “You want the good news or the bad news?”

“I was hoping the phone call was the bad news.”

She threw her napkin at him. “Boy, we are grumpy aren’t we, Ebenezer?”

“Sorry,” he said. “All right, I’ll take the good news.”

She handed him a manila packet. “Jake’s adoption papers came in the mail, and I talked to Frank. He says he’ll sign them. Jake’s all yours if you really want to do this. He will officially become Jake Andrew Sloane.”

They had discussed Sloane’s adopting Jake to avoid the constant and predictable confusion each time Sloane tried to sign forms on Jake’s behalf, be it for the doctor, dentist, or school administration. Legally, Sloane was not Jake’s father or even his guardian. But the desire to adopt was more than just to solve procedural inconveniences. Sloane wanted them to be a family and to remove every boundary, even artificial ones, to that goal. He wanted to be Jake’s father as much as he wanted to be Tina’s husband. Doing it legally would be the best way to convince Jake that Sloane loved him and would always be there for him. At the same time, Sloane had been emphatic that the decision to change his last name was Jake’s alone to make.

“Have you told him?”

“No. I wanted to wait for you.”

“Let’s tell him tonight.”

“Good. We can also discuss the bad news.” Tina pulled out another packet of papers from her purse and handed them to Sloane. On the top page, in bright red ink, was a D-.

“Damn,” Sloane said, looking over Jake’s algebra exam. “I was supposed to help him study last week and I got delayed at the office to do that piece on Channel Five. I let him down.” He sighed. “This is not a good start to becoming his father, is it?”

To her credit, Tina did not rub it in. “What can we do to change it?”

“I can begin by keeping my word and better prioritizing my life.”

With his busy schedule Sloane and Jake’s time together had suffered. They had not been out on the boat to fish since June, and they had put off a summer vacation when Sloane got called to be the keynote speaker at a national trial lawyers meeting. It was about then when Jake had gone back to calling him “David,” instead of “Dad.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s just the first test, and his teacher said he can retake it to try to improve his grade.”

“What did Jake say?”

She made a face and imitated Jake’s voice. “‘What’s the point, I’ll just fail again.’”

Sloane took a sip of his beer.

“What’s going on? This isn’t end-of-the-world stuff. Did something happen at work?”

Sloane was still learning how to share his emotions. When he had lived alone he could brood in his apartment for days. That was no longer an option. Tina gave him space, but only for so long before she sought answers.

Sloane shook his head. “I’m fine. Just a little blue.”

She tilted her head, considering him. “Well, maybe I can do something about that.”

“I thought you said Jake was at home.”

She kicked him playfully under the table. “I meant I have other news. I was going to save it but . . .”

“Good news, hopefully?”

She smiled. “Hopefully.”

Sloane sensed her being coy. “So what is it?”

“I was just thinking that when we tell Jake about the adoption papers we might want to add another pro to his list of reasons to change his name.”

“And what would that be?”

“Because then both our children will have the same last name.”

GALAXY TOYS’ CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

LATE IN THE afternoon, Maxine Bolelli sat with her fist pressed against her upper lip to keep from screaming. When Malcolm Fitzgerald finished talking she moved her fist and leaned closer to the speakerphone in the center of the table. “You’re making a big mistake, Malcolm.”

“You’ve said that, Maxine.”

“No, I said I won’t wait forever for Kendall to get its act together. I know you’re still juggling a lot of balls, but if you’re holding on out of some sense of loyalty or duty to Sebastian your loyalties are sorely misplaced. He will be dead in weeks. We both know it. A bad deal, but shit happens.”

“Your sympathy is touching.”

At forty-three, Bolelli, raised in a family with five brothers, did not shy away from competition or confrontation, and she did not mince words. Since Hugh Galaxy and the board had named Bolelli CEO, Galaxy’s annual revenues had grown to $3.2 billion, putting the company in position to finally challenge Titan for toy world supremacy. Acquiring Kendall Toys, which had a strong action figure department—something Galaxy had never been able to sustain—would be the final step in her quest, and Bolelli wasn’t about to let Malcolm Fitzgerald keep Galaxy from its rightful place at the top.

“The two of us never much liked each other in life. Death isn’t about to change that. Your obligation is to your shareholders.”

“The board has made this decision in the best interests of our shareholders.”

“How can you say that?” Bolelli did not try to hide her exasperation. She shifted her gaze to the two people sitting across from her: Brandon Craft, Galaxy’s president, and its chief financial officer, Elizabeth Meyers. “Your third-quarter numbers look like a train wreck.”

“A blip on the radar.”

“That blip has been present since Sebastian announced his retirement.”

“The board isn’t interested, Maxine.”

“The offer is off the table when we finish this conversation, Malcolm. Don’t bother to call me back.”

“What about lunch next time you’re in town?”

Bolelli hung up, pushed away from the table, and paced the blue carpet in her bare feet. She’d had the office decorated completely in robin’s-egg blue, from the carpeting to the upholstered chairs and the leather couch. She also frequently wore the color. It wasn’t her favorite, but robin’s-egg blue was the distinctive color associated with Baby Betty, the doll that had put Galaxy on the map and sustained it for more than half a century. Bolelli had been Baby Betty’s nanny since Galaxy lured Bolelli from a rival toy company, and even after her promotion, Bolelli refused to hand off the doll, trusting Galaxy’s meal ticket to no one else.

“How could they reject it?” Craft asked.

“I don’t know how,” Bolelli said. “I don’t know why. But that arrogant bastard just told me to shove thirty-five million dollars up my ass.”

“How do you want to play it?” Craft asked.

Bolelli considered her options but not for long. “Get on the phone with our contacts in the media and on Wall Street. Let’s see how he likes it when his shareholders are screaming for his head on a platter.”

“How much do you want to give away?” Meyers asked, referring to the Scottsdale negotiations.

“Everything. I want Kendall’s shareholders to know how reasonable we’ve been and how unreasonable he’s been. I want him crawling back, begging me to make him an offer.”

“We’ll be putting Titan on notice of the negotiations,” Craft said, tentative.

“You don’t think Ian knows everything already?” She referred to Titan CEO Ian Hansen. “I can’t go to the bathroom around here without him hearing the toilet flush in Chicago. I’m not worried about Titan. They don’t have the cash reserves to make this kind of offer, and if Fitzgerald would turn down the offer I just made him, no way he’d take less. I’m more interested in how a man watching a century-old company disintegrate while he stands at the helm could say no to millions of dollars and sound like Christmas came three months early at the same time.” She looked out the windows at a plane on a flight path toward Phoenix Airport. “He has to have something in his back pocket. There’s no other explanation. He’s banking on something. I can smell it. Why don’t I know what that is?”

Neither Craft nor Meyers answered, apparently thinking her question rhetorical.

Bolelli turned on them. “Why don’t I know what that is, Brandon?”

Craft stumbled. “I talked to my source this morning. There was a board meeting, and he said no one looked happy going into it.”

“Well then something probably happened,” Meyers said, stating the obvious.

“Of course something happened. What I want to know is what that was,” Bolelli said. “And I want to know now.”

THREE TREE POINT

WASHINGTON

TOO EXCITED TO wait any longer, Sloane and Tina decided to have dessert at home with Jake and tell him the news over a bowl of ice cream. Neither was certain how Jake would react, though he had been dropping hints that it might be okay to have a little brother, and maybe a sister, as long as she wasn’t the annoying type.

“I’ll get the ice cream,” Sloane said as they walked in the back door. “I think we better stock up; you might have those midnight cravings for things like ice cream and sardines.”

She scrunched her nose. “Ew.”

“You go reel in Jake; he’s probably down at the water, fishing.”

As he retrieved bowls and spoons, habit caused Sloane to look to the granite counter, but Bud did not trot along its edge, purring and looking to be fed. Two months earlier his cat had darted from the house just as the neighbor’s seventeen-year-old son sped up the block in his parents’ Mercedes, killing Bud. Sloane and Jake had built a coffin, lined it with Bud’s favorite blanket, and buried him in the backyard, facing the Puget Sound, so Bud could dream about fish forever. Sloane had cried that day. He and Bud had been alike. Both orphans, they had managed somehow to find a family. Even after two months, Sloane found himself mourning his cat’s death, and any discussion of a replacement seemed sacrilegious, though Jake and Tina were making subtle hints about a puppy.

  • • •

WHEN SLOANE FINISHED his ice cream he rested his spoon in his bowl. “So, Jake, your mother and I wanted to talk to you about a few things.”

Jake had been uncharacteristically quiet, as if he knew the shoe was about to drop and hoped his silence might make him invisible. He raised his focus from his bowl. “I’m sorry,” he blurted. “I tried. I really tried, but I don’t get it. Please don’t tell me I can’t go fishing anymore.”

Tina raised a napkin to cover her smile.

“Well, since you brought it up, Jake, let’s talk about your algebra test,” Sloane said.

Jake’s jaw dropped. He looked like he wanted to slap his forehead. “You mean you were going to talk about something else? Oh, crap.”

“Language,” Tina said.

“Actually, Jake, I should be apologizing to you,” Sloane said.

“Why, what did you do wrong?”

“I made you a promise and I didn’t keep it. I promised to help you with your algebra. A man is only as good as his word. I’m afraid mine wasn’t worth much.”

“That’s okay, David. You’ll do better next time.” Jake quickly pushed back his chair from the table.

“Hang on a second there, partner,” Sloane said. “That being said, we both have some work to do, and we’ll start tonight, after dinner. We’ll go over your test and find out why your answers are wrong. Then we’ll get started on your homework.”

“It’s not due until Friday.”

“Good, then we have plenty of time to get it done right. I don’t want you to wait until the last minute and cram on Thursday night.”

“That’s what you did for your trial.”

“What?”

“You told Mom that Tom did all the work, and you had to cram over the weekend and couldn’t take her to that garden show.”

Tina raised her napkin again. Sloane wanted to kick her under the table.

“You’re right, I did say that, but that wasn’t because I was off having fun. I was working on other things and couldn’t get to it. Do you understand the difference?”

Jake nodded. “Sure, that’s why you couldn’t help me with my algebra.”

Tina had to turn her head and bite her lip to keep from laughing out loud. Sloane decided to retreat. “Now, the next thing we need to talk about, as a family, is that issue about my adopting you. Have you given that some consideration?”

Jake nodded. “I made a pro and con table like you told me.” He rushed into Sloane’s office, emerged with a pad of paper, and set it on his chair. “Okay,” he said, drawing their attention like a lawyer before a jury. “Let’s start with the cons.” He flipped the sheet of paper. Sloane’s heart sank. Jake had listed eight reasons not to change his name. “To begin with, this could become very confusing for my friends. I mean they know me as Jake Carter, and changing my name to Sloane will be hard for them to remember. It will also be difficult for my teachers, although that might not be such a bad thing for Mr. Jackson,” he said, referring to his math instructor.

Sloane couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Continuing on . . .” Jake went through each of the eight listed reasons, each a valid point against changing his name, each another blow to Sloane’s hopes.

“Now,” Jake said, “let’s look at the pros.” He paused.

Sloane felt as nervous as waiting for a jury verdict.

Jake flipped the chart. On the page behind it he had drawn a huge smiley face. “Because I would be stoked!”

Sloane thrust a fist in the air. “Yes!” He gave Jake a hug. “And I’ll be stoked too. I promise you, Jake, I’ll be there for you. We’ll be a family, just as close as if we were blood related.”

“Closer even.”

“Closer than blood?”

“Sure. I mean, normally you can’t pick your family, right? You’re stuck with them. But we’re actually choosing to be a family. That makes us even closer.”

Sloane turned to Tina. “I think Jake has displayed some real maturity tonight. The kind of maturity that should be rewarded, don’t you agree?”

Jake’s eyes bugged. “I can get a puppy?”

“We were thinking about something else,” Tina said. “Something better than a puppy.”

Jake looked genuinely perplexed. “Better than a puppy?”

Tina smiled. “How about a baby brother or sister?”

AFTER JAKE WENT upstairs to read in his room, Sloane and Tina pulled on light fleece jackets and stepped outside to enjoy the sunset over the Olympic Mountain Range, a dazzling display of color and beauty. Hand in hand they stepped over the logs to the sand-and-gravel beach, their shoes crunching as they strolled. A chorus of crickets and the occasional deep bass croak of a bullfrog interrupted the rhythmic lapping of waves. Fishing boats tethered to white buoys bobbed just offshore. August and September had become Sloane’s favorite months in the Pacific Northwest. The sun rose early and set late, allowing him to spend more time with Tina and Jake after work.

“So, Mr. Sloane,” Tina said. “Are you prepared for this?”

“Walking? Oh sure. I’ve been walking since I was one.”

She punched his arm. “I meant the baby.”

Sloane joked, but he knew he had not hidden his apprehension well when Tina gave him the news and she had clearly picked up on it. “I guess I better be,” he said. They walked on. “Have you told your parents?”

Tina shook her head. Her smile faded. Her mother and stepfather, Terri and Bill Larsen, had never accepted Sloane, and there was no shortage of reasons for their rejection. The Larsens had raised their daughter in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood and sent her to a private school near Presidio Heights where San Francisco’s blue-blooded families maintained mansions. They had been elated when Tina married Frank Carter, the son of one of those families, which helped them gain access into that community, and then devastated that she would divorce him, regardless that Frank had turned out to be a spoiled man with little ambition, work ethic, or sense of responsibility who had blown through his trust fund.

The fact that Sloane was a highly successful attorney did not appease them. Catholic, they had declined an invitation to attend the civil wedding ceremony, considering their daughter still married to Frank Carter in the eyes of the Church and God. That their daughter was an adult capable of making her own decisions, or that the state recognized her divorce, was irrelevant. They blamed Sloane for pressuring Tina into an unholy union, making their daughter an adulteress, and refused to acknowledge him as her husband.

But Sloane knew there was another reason as well, unspoken but one with which he had become quite familiar. The Larsens were no different from others who had rejected him throughout his life simply because he had no pedigree. What was he going to say? “I never knew my father but I have a recollection of my mother being raped and murdered, the rest is a blur.”

A lone fisherman cast in shadows nodded to them as he reeled in his line, snapped back the reel, and flicked the lure out into the water. Sloane heard a distant plunk. Tina leaned her head against his shoulder. “You’ll be a great dad,” she said.

Sloane wished he had her confidence. The truth was he had no idea what kind of father he would make. The past two years with Jake had taught him much and given him some measure of confidence, but Jake had come ready-made. Tina had raised a polite, respectful boy before Sloane ever entered the picture, and he couldn’t help but feel like the second-string quarterback stepping onto the field after the first string had already built a huge lead. He viewed his job as trying not to screw up too badly.

He decided not to debate it. “So what about you, Mrs. Sloane, how do you feel about all this, since you’ll be doing most of the work for the next nine months?”

“Most?”

“Hey, I said I would rush to the store every time you utter the words ice cream.”

“Don’t remind me. I hate the thought of being fat again.” Sloane knew she was only half-joking. “I feel like it took forever for me to get my body back after Jake.”

“That’s not what I remember.” He still held a recollection of Tina entering his San Francisco office to interview as his assistant and his being instantly attracted to her dark hair, olive complexion, and tall, toned body.

“You were horny then. You hadn’t had sex in years.”

“I was saving myself for you.”

“Yeah, right.” They had reached the Point, where massive boulders had been deposited. At low tide they could walk around it, but now, with the tide in, the water was halfway up the rocks. They turned and started back in the opposite direction, toward home.

“Any thoughts on names? What about David?”

The name had never meant much to Sloane, given that it was not his real name but rather the name Joe Branick gave him when the CIA agent smuggled Sloane out of Mexico and hid him in California’s foster care system.

“Joseph,” he said.

She stopped walking and looked up at him. “I like it. Any particular reason?”

“I just like the sound of it. ‘Joe.’ It’s a strong name. It would sound good being announced over a PA system at a sporting event.” Sloane imitated the echoing voice of a broadcaster. “Starting at quarterback, number twelve, Joe Sloane.”

She laughed. “Oh now that’s really important.”

“You have to consider those types of things,” he said. “I mean, what if he becomes president? You don’t want a name like Oscar for president.”

“Didn’t seem to hurt Barack.”

“Touché.”

“Okay, what if it’s a girl?”

“So far, anyone I’ve known with a teenage daughter has told me to move out of the house when she turns thirteen and not to move back again until she turns twenty-one.”

“And what am I supposed to do during those eight years?”

“Produce a young woman as beautiful as her mother.”

“Don’t try to butter me up, you deserter.”

As they continued up the beach Sloane saw someone step over the logs in front of their property and walk in their direction. In the dusk he initially thought it to be Jake. When Sloane could make out the man’s face he was surprised.

“Tom?”

Tom Pendergrass looked harried, brow furrowed. “Hi, Tina. I’m sorry to disturb you.” He looked to Sloane. “I tried to call, but you weren’t answering your cell. Jake said you were out taking a walk.” Pendergrass lived not far from Sloane, just up the hill in Burien.

“What’s the matter?”

“I just heard it on the news,” he said. “Dr. Douvalidis killed himself.”

TOM PENDERGRASS SAT in Sloane’s family room sipping a Scotch and looking pale and sick to his stomach.

“Why did you ask me about the evidence in court this morning?”

Sloane shook his head. He had hoped to avoid the conversation. “It was nothing.”

“You asked me if I had doubts. Why?”

“You tried a good case, Tom. The evidence was solid and the jury found liability; you have no reason to feel any responsibility about what happened.”

“Did you have doubts?”

Sloane did not want Pendergrass to feel any worse than he already did. “I didn’t doubt you, Tom. It was nothing, just regular doubts whenever the jury is out, that’s all. But the jury agreed. You did your job. You’re not responsible for this.”

Before Pendergrass could question him further the phone rang. It was a reporter Sloane knew, asking him to comment on reports that Dr. Douvalidis had been despondent over the death of Austin McFarland. Sloane politely declined and sat beside Pendergrass and Tina to watch the news.

The death of the prominent pediatrician was the first story after a commercial break, and much to Sloane’s chagrin, the reporter took little time tying the suicide to the verdict for malpractice, and to Sloane.

After the news, Sloane sent Pendergrass home, and Tina went upstairs to bed. Knowing he would not sleep much, he slipped into his home office, opened his briefcase, and pulled out Kyle Horgan’s file.

His inclination had been not to take the file, but there had been something about Horgan’s passionate plea, and Sloane’s own doubts about Dr. Douvalidis’s guilt, that caused him to ignore that inclination. Horgan might turn out to indeed be crazy, but Sloane didn’t think so. Odd maybe, but not crazy.

Horgan had doodled on the file cover in blue ink, rough sketches of what appeared to be various appendages of a spaceman: a helmeted head in the left corner, a robotic arm in the right, a hinged leg in the center. Inside the file, Sloane found additional sketches, drawn on graph paper and more refined; mathematical calculations accompanied each sketch, with arrows directed to the various body parts. Sloane had taken calculus in college, but the equations were beyond him. Beneath the drawings Sloane found a handwritten document, which appeared to be a copy of a letter from Horgan to a company called Kendall Toys in which Horgan expressed concern that the plastic component parts of something called “Metamorphis” did not meet ASTM standards, which Sloane knew to be an acronym for the American Society for Testing and Materials. Horgan suggested that production be halted until the design flaw could be remedied.

All of that was mildly interesting, but what sent a chill through Sloane was a news article beneath a letter that Sloane initially thought concerned the Douvalidis trial, but did not. A four-year-old child had died in Mossylog, Washington, a rural Southern Washington town, after suffering from three days of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, high fevers, listlessness, and, finally, loss of consciousness—the same symptoms that had led to the death of Austin McFarland, and for which Sloane had prosecuted Peter Douvalidis.


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