grandparents, and he always spoke fondly of it. See, he broke the first rule. I traced him there via a false ID he thought I didn’t know about, he’d gotten it a few years ago from the same guy who got me the Emily Smith cards. Mistake number two. I found him in a beachside house, a modest little bungalow, and walked right up to him on his back porch one cold night and, before he could say I’m sorry, put the bullet in his face. No hello, no good-bye you sorry piece of trash. Not in the mouth like James Powell but right between the wide, lying eyes. Frank was surprised. I was surprised he had as much brain as he did voice. But he was never stupid. My mistake.

The money was hidden in the house, in six different places. I took it and then phoned the Houston police, anonymously reported that I thought I’d seen Frank Polo, who they were looking for, at the Jax address and hung up. My second good deed for the day.

Frank had laid low, hadn’t spent more than a few thousand, and I headed down to Miami, caught a plane to the Caymans, and started re-cleaning the money back through a series of accounts. Finally I put half in an account for me. Half in an unnumbered account for Whit. Mailed him a note with the bank name, the account and access numbers, and ‘I love you.’ Nothing else. I hoped he wouldn’t give it away or refuse to touch it or call the police about it like a high-minded idiot. I sort of tied my boy’s hands; he won’t tell the police now because it’s too many questions, and the money can help make up for all the trouble I caused him and his brothers their whole lives.

I don’t have to work, what with my cash settlement from Frank, but I get restless sitting around so I took a part-time job in a little coffee shop/bookstore in Hanalei. It’s a hippie town near Princeville. The young people here all have dirty feet and it’s not the kind of Hawaiian destination anyone from my previous lives would pick. So I am the world’s oldest barista and I sell travel books and bestselling paperbacks to the vacationers. The dirty-feet kids all like to read Beat Generation writers. They don’t know what life lived running is, trust me. But most of the customers are tourists who come in once and only once, and the other clerks are nice but aren’t nosy. I say I’m from California, where it seems half the world is from, and it’s answer enough.

But every day is a terrible temptation.

The bookstore owner, Doris, a really sweet lady, set up an Internet access on a couple of computers in the store. Thought it’d sell more coffee, and it does; the hippies love it. They come in and e-mail their parents for more money.

But when the store’s not busy, I sit down and I open to a search engine and I want to type in Whit’s name so bad I could cry. I want to know he’s okay. But I’m afraid, every Web site you visit on that machine is recorded in a file somewhere in the world, I’m sure of it, and having made myself vanish again I don’t want to risk it. I would for him and him alone. Because if I know he’s okay, will that be enough? Will I keep from e-mailing him? Or phoning him? Did he get the two-plus million out of the account? Is he having fun with his share or did he give it all away to charity out of pointless guilt? I won’t ever know.

The temptation is like hunger, hell, starvation of the worst sort. Because you imagine that the barest crumb would keep you going.

But I don’t. For weeks and weeks, I don’t. Then I get an idea. I log on using Doris’ account (her password was ‘doris,’ for God’s sakes), go to the Web site for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I don’t search by Whit’s name on the archives, I search for ‘justice of the peace.’ How many are there in the Coastal Bend? Not many, right?

I find articles on him. Still in office, conducting a death inquest on a homicide over in Laurel Point. A mention in a story on Babe’s passing, dated two weeks ago. Babe gone. Whit grieving bad, I know, I’m aching to hold him now.

So Whit’s safe. He stayed in office. I didn’t ruin him. He’s tough like me.

But it made me miss him more, bad enough where I felt sick and I went home early and lay on my bed. I could buy one of those prepaid call cards. Pay cash. Make it impossible to trace. Let him know I’m okay, hear his voice for a minute.

But no. He let me walk away when I needed to and it’s not fair, me opening the door again. Let it be shut. Let me be strong to keep it shut. He doesn’t need me.

At night I rent the movies. Caddyshack and Monty Python and all those Woody Allen ones full of jokes only New Yorkers and Whit get. I pretend he and I are sitting together, sharing popcorn, watching the movies. It is all I’m gonna get now.

And it has to be enough.

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