In the kitchen, Matthew and Sung, on speakerphone, reassured Harold—Sung’s extra week in Woodstock would not delay Readiness Is All.
“With permission, Harold, seven days was precaution. I will arrive Friday.”
Matthew shook his head. Sung must not leave until Brooke was safe. In reply, his Lord and Master spread his fingers on the oak table. He had given Matthew his word—Axl would be gone tonight, never to return.
“I know, Harold. Children smash boards in half every day.”
Sung vouched that Matthew’s new teacher was superior in power and speed-breaking—and equally superior in orchestrating underwater fight scenes before the yacht explodes.
From the hallway, Brooke was telling Dex that she and Matthew couldn’t both take them sledding. Matthew caught a peripheral glimpse of her ski hat with braided strings dangling along her neck.
Then she and Dex were whirling into the kitchen; Ivy dragging her snowsuit behind her. Matthew rose from his seat as if gravity had briefly weakened. Bidding Harold a hasty good-bye, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow evening on the set.”
Sung hung up and told Dex about playing Pokémon with a girl in Japan at four am.
“Did you win?”
“She’s another new player. Very pretty—a hotel manager. Please, Dex, show me the next two levels.”
“Perhaps you can train me this afternoon.” Half-bowing, Sung left to visit his cousin, mentioning that after adjustments, the surveillance system now covered Matthew’s entire estate.
The children were still begging Matthew and Brooke both to go sledding.
“Sorry,” Matthew sighed. “I have to make phone calls.”
Dex said shit and Ivy tossed her boot.
“It’s hard on me too. Next year, I’ll be around all the time. Please think about how much easier our life is than other families’.”
Dex said Kevin’s parents had gotten divorced and Kevin didn’t care if he ever saw his father again.
“But I do care, Dad—a lot!”
“Me too,” Matthew said.
“Me three,” said Ivy, laughing at the joke she just made up. Matthew helped her into her one-piece snowsuit and put on her boots.
Then it seemed the children receded, stepping into the pantry like a faraway cloud, leaving Matthew alone with Brooke. He pressed his hand against the back of her knitted hat.
“Don’t,” she whispered, dancing to the table’s far end. Where she smiled, her face as vivid and beguiling as ever, although tinged with sorrow. She fastened the belt to her jacket, and suddenly Matthew stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. Again, she slipped away from him; to stare out the wall-sized window.
He watched Brooke’s profile in the thin, winter light. She tilted at the waist and a fleeting, poignant energy coursed through her—and then through him. She turned, warning him with a look. “We’re on our honor. Right, Dex?”
“Shit,” Dex said, “and more shit.”
Apparently, Matthew’s kids had not stepped into the pantry or anywhere else—he’d fantasized that. Brooke led them outside, saying, “I brought my own sled so we can race.”
After running this morning, Matthew kept asking how she felt, and Brooke kept saying she’d miss him when he left, no sooner. To him, it seemed she had tapped into a defiant forbearance not unlike her resolve after her father nearly cracked her skull. Possibly, horribly, her remarkable audacity, which he so loved, resulted—in part—from her father’s brutal assaults.
Yet she was now as poised as anyone he’d seen, which might help when her psychic injuries finally woke after lying dormant for years.
Stop! Matthew wasn’t a therapist and certainly not objective. So quit speculating!
Except he couldn’t: Brooke’s vulnerability frightened him even as it drove him toward something like worship.
Brooke had vowed they would outlast—out-love—all who opposed them. “We’re gonna show the whole fucking world, Matthew.”
“Oh, I suppose so, Bond. Continue if you can.”
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind—”
“Enough! Ask about me!”
“Fletcher, how are you? Have you got Jimmy Logan rooted to the spot?”
“My travails here are harrowing, Bond. Monsignor Numarary demands clandestine meetings, determined to convert me. How is it that an avowed homosexual does not want to join them? He refers to my ultimate ‘submission’ as if Jimmy’s induction depends on it, which it does not. Despite communal indignation over a heathen like me dragooning an initiate into their inner sanctum, Jimmy has officially made his ‘covenant.’ Opus Dei will save his soul and tithe his income.
“Ergo, I’m the one in mortal danger, Bond. I might wake to a tonsured head and burlap gown.”
“Fletcher, if Jimmy Logan isn’t gone forever, I cannot leave her.”
“Rubbish, you leave within hours. As agreed, I shall care for Brooke, knowing far better than you, Bond, the traumas she’s suffered. During a secret discussion with His Revered Excellency, I reported Jimmy’s deadly beatings of his little girl. And bloody hell, if his Serene Holy Highness didn’t rest his hands atop his globular belly and recite an insipid psalm.
“Whilst, I acquiesce to an icy shower before dawn, forego caffeine, and participate in the Tridentine Mass after which we trot to an AA meeting of theological dipsomaniacs.”
“Thank you, Fletcher. Sung plans to arrive at Heathrow Friday morning.”
“That’s perfectly reasonable, Bond. You must listen to me! After the lawyers, realtors, bankers, et al, Jimmy and I walked into O’Bannion’s, which was bustling with lusty Guiness-drinking young men. The new owner introduced himself, saying, “Free pints, everyone, all night.” But they wanted pitchers. Of course, Jimmy said, to get their foam just right. He scanned the shelves: Harp in bottles, plenty of Jamesons. What about Bushmills? Show of hands—who wanted him to stock Bushmills? And what about Murphy’s Irish Red? Jimmy’s favorite.
“Tell me, Bond, what dim-witted miscreant would buy Jimmy Logan an Irish pub instead of a shoe shop.”
“That would’ve been better.”
“Silence, Bond! I’m speaking. A veritable cherub will keep Jimmy sober. Within two dulcet days, he’s declared his devotion to me and I’ve hired him as O’Bannion’s financial advisor.”
“Do not question my miracle as that’s precisely what it is. Our eyes met, bedazzled during the Transubstantiation—you know, Eat My Body; Drink My Blood, except in Latin. And ever since, our fervid gazes waltz around the braying sheep. Should Jimmy waver in the least, my beloved Luke will immediately inform Monsignor Numarary, who cares not a whit about fatal child abuse, but as an ex-drunk going on thirty years is a zealot on sobriety.”
(click here for the next episode)