Authors: James Scott Bell
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Suspense
Lindy looked into her friend’s Nordic eyes, which had a difference about them now. Aknowingness. Roxy didn’t look as confused or vulnerable as she had the last time Lindy saw her. Maybe it was her new boyfriend.
“Take the case,” Roxy said, “and do what God meant you to do.”
Lindy shook her head. “How’d God get into this?”
“He’s into everything. That’s something I found out.”
“Oh yeah? Why didn’t I get the memo?”
“It’s all in here.” Roxy picked up the Bible.
And that’s when a little snap went off inside Lindy. She had always believed in something out there, even flirted with Christianity in high school. But that seemed a long time ago.
“Does it say in there how come God let this kid turn out the way he did? How come he let this father even have a kid?”
Roxy looked a little pained. “I know there’s hard questions.”
“Well, when you get an answer to any of ’em, let me know. And while you’re at it, let me know why I got the father I got.”
“What about your father?”
“No, tell me.”
“You come here and drink my Dr Pepper, you ask me to work for you. And you’re my friend. You got me through a rough time. Maybe I can do something for you.”
Lindy leaned back and looked at the ceiling. She’d never talked about it, not with anyone.
“So I had a lousy father,” Lindy said. “It’s not like I’m the only one.”
“What’s the big deal? He drank, he beat my mom up, he beat—”
Lindy stopped suddenly, an unwelcome memory unfurling in her mind. She closed her eyes, fighting it back. “Forget it.”
“Hey, girl, I’m sorry I—”
“Forget it, I said.” Lindy, embarrassed, wiped the wetness in her eyes with the back of her hand.
A long, penetrating silence passed. In that silence, ideas fell and shifted inside Lindy’s mind, a rearrangement of mental furniture. Her assumptions changed, and she regarded the changes and knew what she had to do.
“I’m taking the case,” she said. “Let’s get to work.”
“Please try to talk.”
Mona shook her head. It felt empty, like her heart.
“I don’t mean to push you,” Brad said.
But he did, and Mona knew it. She also knew this was hurting him. She didn’t want to hurt him. She loved him. They’d had one child, Matthew, born after two miscarriages.
She loved him but she was not ready to talk about
“We are going to get through this,” Brad said. He reached across the table—the dining room table she had found at a garage sale early in their marriage and had restored herself, a table set with a banquet of fond memories. She did not reach halfway.
“Brad, I’m sorry. I just need more time.”
“I know. We both do.”
In the silence Mona heard the clock ticking on top of the refrigerator. She’d picked that up at the same garage sale. For fifty cents. Strange how clearly she could remember that.
“Let’s just talk about something,” Brad said. “Anything.”
Mona took a sip of coffee. It was lukewarm.
Brad picked up the front page of the
“Did you see this? There’s a group up in Santa Cruz, wants to bring a lawsuit on behalf of overweight pets. Going after owners, the pet food industry, even—”
Mona closed her eyes.
“—the pounds. Hey, that’s kind of a joke, isn’t it? Overweight. Pounds.”
Mona rubbed her temples.
“You know who I think is behind it? The Atkins people. Wouldn’t that be a great conspiracy theory?”
Nodding her head, Mona tried to smile for him. But she couldn’t.
The mirror was not doing her any favors. She could hardly stand to look at herself. Where once her copper-colored eyes had reflected light, they now seemed muddy, like the streets of a southern town after a flood. Had she cried enough tears to wash the light from them?
And where once she had a face that people said looked younger than her thirty-eight years (“You could have been an actress or a model,” Brad used to tell her), she now fought every wrinkle. The scar near the corner of her mouth was where a precancerous growth had been cut out by her HMO surgeon two years ago. The scar had always looked like a dimple to her, but that was when she was looking through eyes that could still see hope. Now they saw every flaw on her face and the gray strands showing up in her auburn hair.
She was able to go through the motions of humanity—to walk, to speak, to give the impression of rational thought. But behind the movement she wandered, dazed, lost in her own illusion, the inhabitant of permanent nightmare. And when she paused to reflect, she threatened to topple into a bottomless, empty pit.
And God would not save her from falling. He was not above; he was not present. If anything, he was below the pit and silent.
She remembered reading about some theologians’ concept of God as being powerless to intervene in life. Things happened that were bad, and God grieved along with the rest of us.
At the time she’d shaken her head and even said something to Brad about how loony some people were, even people who taught at the university level. Maybe especially people who taught at the university level. And Brad had laughed, being a graduate of UC Berkeley and knowing full well that the hallowed halls of higher learning were rife with a brand of theism that birthed cancer in the soul. “I believe I had Satan for freshman biology,” Brad used to say. “He used to grade us with a pitchfork.”
Now she wasn’t laughing. Maybe these theologians and academics had a point. Maybe this whole Christianity thing was an exercise in denial.
She didn’t say so to Brad, of course. He’d worry and start yapping about getting some counseling, and she just couldn’t handle that right now. She did not want his strength, rooted as it was in a doctrine she could not confirm. She did not know what she wanted.
She knew she didn’t want to go to church that Sunday. It was too soon, and she didn’t want everybody coming up to her with hugs and wishes and tears and offers of dinner and anything else they could do. She wanted to be alone with her grief.
But Brad insisted in his gentle but firm way that she go. And a very small part of her thought,
ll give God a chance, but he better
not blow it this time. He could have saved Matthew, and he didn
The church stood on a hillside north of the Valley, just off the 118 freeway. And from the looks of things, it was a pretty popular place.
Cars streamed into the parking lot. Lindy, holding her Starbucks in hand like it was a magic back-from-the-dead elixir, hoped Roxy would be able to find a spot without bending a fender. She was so excited about seeing her guy, she was giddy.
Lindy hadn’t been sure what to wear and settled on her closing-argument suit, a dark blue pinstripe ensemble with skirt and coat, very conservative. She needed juries to believe there was a little conservatism inside her, especially by the end of her trials. The conservative image was usually a tough sell, but at least she could dress the part.
The auditorium was getting packed quickly. Roxy, wearing more makeup than usual and dressed in, of all things, a dress, gazed around the crowd like a meerkat.
“I don’t see him.”
Lindy smoothed her blouse. “No hurry.”
“You seem a little anxious.”
“Anxious? I look anxious?”
“Like a CEO on
“I’m in foreign land here.”
“We don’t eat our young.”
A nice-looking young man with wavy blond hair handed Lindy a program and showed a row of white teeth.
“Welcome,” he said. He looked about twenty.
“Thanks,” Lindy said.
The young man pointed to Lindy’s Starbucks cup. “Want me to take that for you?”
“You try, I’ll bite your arm off.”
The smile disappeared.
“Kidding,” Lindy said. “Here, I’ll kill it for you.” She downed the remainder and handed the guy the cup. He took it and hurried off, as if he couldn’t wait to pass out programs in another part of the lobby.
“Friendly joint,” Lindy said.
Roxy almost jumped in the air. “There he is!”
A lean man of around thirty, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, white slacks, and leather sandals, headed toward them. His smile, seen through a clipped brown goatee, seemed genuine enough.
“This is Travis Kellman,” Roxy said.
He shook Lindy’s hand. “Thanks for coming.”
“Life is about risk,” Lindy said.
They settled into some seats, Travis sitting on the other side of Roxy. A pretty good band played up on the stage. All right. Not so bad. And then everybody stood up and started singing the words displayed on a big screen.
Lindy stood up so as not to draw attention. She just listened. It was pretty weird, all this singing. People were really into it, clapping and swaying. Their enthusiasm was nothing like the singing in church she’d seen in the movies, with people holding hymnals and trying real hard to sound interested.
Then it was time for the preaching. The pastor’s name, according to the bulletin, was Clark Bennett. And when he got up to speak he owned the place.
This guy could talk, and he looked good. Tall, slender. Midforties, Lindy guessed.
He would have made a good lawyer. A great lawyer, in fact. He spoke for forty minutes and Lindy wasn’t bored once.
Afterward, Travis Kellman invited them to brunch, but Lindy wanted to go home. She wanted to get to the Sunday
, back to the normal world, whatever that was.
She knew deep down it wasn’t a normal world, not with kids like Darren in it. And part of her wished the church thing was real so it could help her out.
But Travis Kellman offered to pick up the tab, and so she acceded to brunch.
“So what kind of artist are you?” Lindy asked Travis Kellman in her cross-examination voice.
Roxy kicked her under the table. They were at a little bistro called La Frite, a place with big windows and outdoor tables with yellow umbrellas. The buffet-style brunch came up salmon and capers and shrimp for Lindy. The other two had egg concoctions.
Lindy ignored Roxy’s nudge and kept her eyes on the goateed fellow.
“Photo surrealism,” Kellman said.
“You’re a photographer?”
“No, a painter. But I paint to make my work look like a photo. When I succeed, that is.”
“What’s the surreal part?”
“I put in something that is not real. Like water rushing down a drain, and men in a rowboat going down with it.”
“What’s bizarre about it?” Roxy snapped.
“He just said it’s surreal. Isn’t that right, Travis?”
“So where’d you pick up this bizarreness? Where are you from?”
Roxy said, “Lindy, will you stop?”
“It’s okay,” Kellman said. “I’m from San Diego, originally.”
“Went to school down there?”
“Yeah. Till I dropped out and bummed around Europe.”
“What about your family?”
“Normal. Mom’s a receptionist. My dad was a cop.”
“He died last year.”
“He must have been one of the good ones,” Lindy said.
Kellman looked at her oddly. “Good ones?”
Uh-oh. Just crossed some line with him. Get sensitive, stupid
. “You know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I do,” he said.
“Police. Cops. Some good, some bad.”
“Mostly good, wouldn’t you say?”
She sensed his question was pointed, inviting argument. “May I speak freely?”
“What have you been doing?” Roxy piped in.