sixteen.'

He handed me the keys.

An hour later I was riding Emo's bike through Trancas Canyon, going fast, leaning hard on the turns. Not oversteering this time-taking chances, just letting it all happen. The wind was tugging at my shirtsleeves and flapping my pant legs. The engine filled my ears with its throaty roar. Finally, I pulled into the place where we'd started the Iron Pig ride last summer. It was a spot high in the Malibu hills that overlooked the ocean. I shut off the engine, kicked down the stand, and reached into the hand-tooled saddlebag, taking out the beer I'd brought with me. Then I opened it and walked over to the lip of the hill, sat on a boulder, and looked out at the Pacific. The sun was just setting, turning the water and sky a purplish-orange.

In my heart and head I was always racing toward something I could never quite define, my ambition and ego pushing me, my final destination, unsure. Along the way, there were many places to stop. Some of them were havens where people I loved were waiting-Alexa, Chooch, Emo, and Jo-places where lessons could be learned. Others were simply hideouts. There were also dangerous spots where demons waited. Where I stopped, and what happened to me when I did, was not only controlled by fate. I had a lot to do with those decisions. They defined my destiny. All I had to do was simply own it. I had spent two hours with the ghost of the future, and knew I didn't want to end up like Royal Mortenson. In the end, life was all about choices. Alexa was right. I had done the best I could, and it hadn't quite worked out the way I wanted. I had to find a way to accept that, but not second-guess it.

I had told Jo that in order to grow she needed to be vulnerable. Maybe that's all this was. Vulnerability. Maybe I didn't have that down quite as well as I thought. Maybe vulnerability was just going to take some more getting used to.

The funerals had all been delayed by the forensics. In the next week, after the coroner finished with the bodies, I would stand at four grave sites while more empty words and hollow platitudes were spoken.

But this was my time.

I raised my beer and said all of their names softly.

'Emo Rojas, Josephine Brickhouse, William Greenridge, Michael Nightingale.' Soldiers who had fallen while I marched on. It was just the way it was.

As the sun went down, I said good-bye to all of them.

God, how I hate cop funerals.

Вы читаете Vertical Coffin
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