“Mr. Perry, each day, life presents us with much more than we can understand. If I chased after everything that makes me curious, I’d have no time for the part of life I do understand.”
The flight attendant arrived to ask if they would like a snack or anything to drink. Ryan ordered a bit of the hair of the dog in the form of a Bloody Mary, and Cathy asked for black coffee.
“Anyway,” she continued, after the attendant went away, “an understanding of what’s important comes to you if you’re patient.”
“And what’s important to you, Cathy?”
She had been holding the magazine, one finger marking her page, as if she expected to return to it in a moment. Now she put it aside.
“No offense, but of the things that are the most important to me, there aren’t any that I just talk about with a stranger on a plane to pass the time.”
“Are we strangers?”
“Not entirely,” was the most that she would give him.
He studied her forthrightly: her lustrous dark hair, her high brow, wide-set and deep eye sockets, nose with a slight endearing crook, that sensuous mouth, proud chin, strong but feminine jaw, and back to her granite-gray eyes that made you feel as if she had rolled you out as thin as phyllo on a cold slab of baker’s granite. Although attractive, she lacked the physical perfection of Samantha, yet something about her convinced him that, in profound ways, she was enough like Sam to be her twin, which made him feel comfortable with her.
“A year ago, I had a heart transplant,” he said.
“I’m glad to be alive. I’m grateful. But…”
He hesitated to continue for so long that before he spoke, the flight attendant returned with the Bloody Mary and the coffee.
Once he had the cocktail in hand, he didn’t want it. He nestled the glass in a drink holder in the arm of his chair.
As Cathy sipped her coffee, Ryan said, “The heart I received was from a young woman who sustained major head trauma in a car crash.”
Cathy knew dead Ismay-or someone pretending to be her-appeared to him prior to the transplant, and she knew that he had experienced one dream, maybe others, related to the nurse. Now Ryan could see her fitting those pieces of knowledge together with smaller bits she knew and others that she might infer, but still she asked no questions.
“Her name was Lily,” he continued. “Turns out, she has a sister, an identical twin.”
“You were sure Ismay must be a twin.”
“I thought identical twins were a theme, I needed to figure out the meaning of the theme. But maybe twins are just a motif.”
His terminology clearly puzzled her, but she said nothing.
“Anyway,” he said, “Lily’s sister-I think she was driving the car when the accident happened.”
“We could find out easily enough. But why does it matter?”
“I think she’s eaten with guilt. Guilt that she can’t endure. So she’s resorting to what psychiatrists call transference.”
“Shifting her guilt to you.”
“Yes. Because I received Lily’s heart, the sister blames me for Lily being dead.”
“Is she dangerous?”
“This isn’t an issue for private security alone. Call the authorities.”
“I’m reluctant to do that.”
Her gray eyes now seemed to be the shade of the snow-cloud layer above which they flew, and he could no more see below the surface of her gaze than he could see the land below the storm.
Into her silence, he said, “You’re wondering why I’m reluctant. I’m wondering, too.”
He looked out the porthole beside him.
Eventually, he said, “I think it’s because I’m at least a little bit sympathetic to her, to the way she feels.”
And after a further passage between the winter clouds and the fierce blind sun, he said, “Going into this, I didn’t realize the emotional weight that accompanies…living with someone else’s heart. It’s this great gift but…it’s a terrible burden, too.”
All the time he had been looking out the porthole, she continued to watch him. Now as he turned to her again, she said, “Why should it be a burden?”
“It just is. It’s like…you have an obligation to live not just for yourself but also for the one who gave you her heart.”
Cathy was silent for so long, her gaze fixed on her mug, that Ryan thought she would pick up the magazine again when she had drunk the last of the coffee.
He said, “The first time we met in Vegas, sixteen months ago, do you remember telling me that I was haunted by my own death, that I felt an ax falling but couldn’t figure out who was swinging it?”
“Do you remember helping me to consider my possible enemies by listing the roots of violence?”
“Lust, envy, anger, avarice, and vengeance. The dictionary says avarice is an insatiable greed for riches.”
She finished her coffee, put the cup aside, but did not return to the magazine. Instead she met his stare.
Ryan said, “Do you think avarice can be a greed for something other than money?”
“A synonym for avaricious is covetous. A man can covet anything belonging to another, not just money.”
The flight attendant arrived to ask if Cathy wanted more coffee and whether something was wrong with Ryan’s Bloody Mary. She took the mug and the glass away.
Following the attendant’s departure, Cathy Sienna broke a mutual silence. “Mr. Perry, I need to ask a terrible question. Blunt and direct. Do you want to die?”
“Why would I want to die?”
“No. Hell no. I’m only thirty-five.”
“You do not want to die?” she asked again.
“I’m terrified of dying.”
“Then there are steps you’ve got to take, and you know them. But in addition to going to the authorities, you’ve got to do more. I think you must make…the heroic act.”
“What do you mean?”
Instead of answering, she turned to the porthole beside her and stared down upon the field of winter clouds, the barren furrows under which seeded snow was harvested by a hidden world below.
Her skin seemed translucent in the high-altitude light, and when Cathy pressed a few fingers to the glass, Ryan had the strangest notion that, if she wanted, she could reach through that barrier as if it were less substantial than a gauzy membrane, even less solid than the surface tension on a pond.
He did not repeat his question, because he recognized that this withdrawal was different from her other silences, more contemplative and yet more urgent.
When she turned to him again, she said, “You may not have time for the heroic act. To be effective for you, it requires a future of satisfactory works.”
The directness of her stare, the tone of her voice, and her earnestness implied that she believed she was speaking plainly to him, her meaning unmistakable.
Confused, Ryan did not at once ask her to clarify, because he recalled what she had said earlier-that understanding comes with patience-and he suspected that any question he asked would be met with the same advice.
“What you need to do,” she continued, “is offer yourself as a victim.” Perhaps she saw bafflement in his face, for she elaborated. “Suffer for the intentions of others, Mr. Perry. If you have the courage and the stamina, offer yourself as a victim all the rest of your life.”
If he’d been required to put into words the course of action that she had just suggested, he could not have made much sense of it. Yet on some deep level of his mind, in some profound recess of his heart, he knew that she had planted a truth in him and that in time he would understand it fully, and only in time.
Without another word, he returned to the seat in which he had been sitting before joining Cathy, and they completed the flight apart from each other.
Crossing Arizona into California, Ryan considered that he did not have to go home, where Lily’s sister must be waiting. He could go anywhere, to Rome or Paris, or Tokyo. He could spend the rest of his life on the run in high style and never exhaust his fortune.
Nevertheless, he rode the plane down to southern California, where the day was overcast and the sea choppy in the distance.
On the Tarmac, before going to the limo that Ryan had arranged to transport Cathy back to Los Angeles, she came to him and said, “You remembered what I said about the roots of violence. Do you remember the taproot-always the ultimate and truest motivation?”
“The hatred of truth,” he said. “And the enthusiasm for disorder that comes from it.”
To his surprise, she put down her small suitcase and hugged him, not in the manner of a woman embracing a man, but with a fierceness that expressed more than affection. She whispered in his ear and then picked up her suitcase and went to the car that waited for her.
In his own limo, leaving the airport, Ryan thought again of escape. They could drive to San Francisco. He could get a new car there and drive himself, next to Portland then east to Boise, down to Salt Lake, to Albuquerque and Amarillo. Spending a night or two in each place, on a perpetual road trip.
His cell phone rang.
He checked the screen. His father was calling.
When Ryan answered, the old man said, “What the shit is going on, kid?”
“How deep is the shit you’re in? Are you gonna drown in it? Am I going down with you, what the hell?”
“Dad, take it easy. Calm down. What’s happening?”
“Violet is happening, right here, right now, get your ass over here.”
For a moment, Ryan thought his father had said violence was happening, but when the word registered properly, he repeated it: “Violet.”
“What’re you doing with a psycho bitch like this, kid? Are you out of your freakin’ mind? You get her out of here. You get her out of here now.”
Lily and Violet, sisters in life, sisters forever.
Nearly nine years earlier, Ryan had bought houses for his mother and father-Janice and Jimmy-and put them on monthly allowances. Considering the general indifference with which they raised him and the number of times the indifference was punctuated with craziness and cruelty, he didn’t feel that he owed them anything. But he was famous, at least in the business world; the media lived to make a goat of a guy like him, which would be inevitable if they found his parents living in near destitution. Besides, there was a kind of satisfaction in treating them better than they had treated him.
Because Janice and Jimmy divorced when Ryan was nineteen, he put his mother in a view house on the hills of Laguna Beach, and settled his father closer, in a place half a block from the beach in Corona del Mar. Janice liked glitz and square footage, but his father wanted a cozy bungalow with “attitude and funk.”
Corona del Mar, which was a part of Newport Beach, didn’t have a reputation for funk. Ryan found a 2,200-square-foot cottage-style bungalow with enormous charm, confident that Jimmy would bring plenty of attitude and funkiness with him.
Unsure of the situation he would find, he had his limo driver park a block away, and he walked to the house.
Step by step, he considered backing off until Wilson Mott could get armed escorts here.
The United States was one of the few places in the world where a wealthy man could safely live without being parenthesized by bodyguards. In the interest of leading a normal life, with as much liberty as he could keep, Ryan used Mott’s armed escorts only when absolutely necessary.
In this instance, while prudence argued for backup, instinct said he must go in alone. Instinct and a belated acknowledgment of the truth also told him that by his actions, he had narrowed his many possible futures to this one aneurysm in the time stream, and Fate would either end him here or give him another chance. Only he could save himself.
He opened a white gate in a white picket fence and walked under a trellis draped with bougainvillea in its less flamboyant winter dress but still with an impressive spray of red petals as bright as blood. A brick walkway led to a porch with side trellises up which climbed trumpet vines.
A gardening service maintained the landscape. Left to Jimmy, the lawn would be dead, and everything else would have rioted into a tangle reminiscent of a third-act set for Little Shop of Horrors.
The front door stood ajar. He did not ring the bell, but pushed the door open and stepped inside.
He seldom came here, so the time warp always surprised him, just as it always depressed him. The Age of Aquarius had passed in most of the rest of the world, but here the clocks had stopped in 1968. The psychedelic posters, the Grateful Dead memorabilia, here Sly and the Family Stone, there Hendrix and Joplin, here the Jefferson Airplane, the Day-Glo peace signs, the portrait of Chairman Mao, bamboo window shades flanked by tie-dyed drapes, and of course the hookah on the coffee table.
Jimmy sat on the sofa, and Lily’s sister, Violet, stood over him with a silencer-equipped pistol.
Seeing Ryan, his father said, “Shit, man, you took long enough. We have a situation here. Whatever you did to make it, you unmake it right now, ’cause this bitch is a stone-serious psycho.”
At sixty-three, Jimmy had no hair on the top of his head but a sufficient crop at the back to make a ponytail. He wore a headband like one that Pigpen had worn, a mustache like David Crosby’s, beads purportedly worn by Grace Slick. The only thing about him that was not copied after someone else were his eyes like burnt holes into which had drained water and ashes, the aftermath of a fire, full of childlike calculation and need and quiet desperation, restless eyes that Ryan could bear to meet only when his old man was sufficiently stoned that the fear and resentment and bitterness were for the moment drowned in chemical bliss.
“Bamping,” Violet said.
Hearing movement, he turned to see a man step into the living room from the hallway. He was Asian, Ryan’s size, and had a pistol of his own.
Indicating Jimmy, she said to Bamping, “Take him to his bedroom and keep him quiet until this is done.”
“I don’t want to go back there,” Jimmy said. “I don’t want to go with him.”
Violet put the muzzle of the silencer against Jimmy’s forehead.
“Dad,” Ryan said. “Do what they want.”
“Screw ‘em,” Jimmy said. “Fascist shits.”
“She’ll blow your brains out, Dad. What can he do to you that would be more final?”
Licking his lips and the fringe of mustache that overhung them, Jimmy rose unsteadily from the sofa. He was a skinny wreck. The seat of his jeans sagged, he had no butt left, and sticking out of his T-shirt, his elbows looked almost as big as his forearms.