the better than truth. I would know. Patrick’s vanishing act had changed the course of my life. Without his dis- appearance in December ’77, I would never have met his sister, Katy Maloney, my future and now ex-wife. With Katy and me, as with all things, the seeds of destruction were sown at birth. Even if we hadn’t made Sarah, the most glorious child ever, I would not regret my time with Katy. She had taught me love and comfort and how not to be only an observer to my own life. So no matter what Patrick had or had not done, I could never hate him.

The same could not be said of my late father-in-law, Francis Maloney. I knew exactly how I felt about that cruel and callous fuck. My father-in-law chilled the earth when they laid him in it, not the other way around. He too had known the secret of his son’s disappearance, that I had found Patrick all those years ago and let him slip away. For twenty years, neither of us had managed the courage to confess our sin to Katy. We held the secret between us like a jug of acid, both of us scared to let it drop for fear of being maimed by the backsplash. We were right to fear it. For when, in death, Francis let go of the jug, the splash scarred us all.

Foolishly, he had assumed it would burn me worst. But the anticipation of the burn, the years of his taunting about ghosts and payback had hardened me. Secrets do that. If the secret’s big enough, you build a wall around it until there’s only wall and very little left of yourself. And Patrick’s secret was only one of many. As a PI, I had become a collector of secrets, a gatekeeper of orphaned truths. I kept the secrets of the murdered and murderers alike.

Since the divorce, secrets and loss were my only companions. I suppose, then, that it wasn’t such a mystery, my thinking about Israel Roth on a rainy Sunday in July. Katy and I had tried briefly to reconcile, but there are some wounds from which recovery is neither possible nor truly desirable. We had sold the house even before the divorce was finalized. Katy moved back upstate to Janus and I bought a condo in one of the new buildings across from the water in Sheepshead Bay. Sarah stayed in Ann Arbor over the summer instead of coming home to work at one of the stores. The wine business wasn’t for her. Like father like daughter. Christ, I hoped not.

The phone rang and there was someone at the door. Amazing! I had sat alone for hours staring out at the rain making shiny little ripples out of the petroleum film floating atop the bay. Now I was pulled in two directions at once.

“One second!” I shouted at the door.

I picked up the phone, “Hello.”


“Sarah! What’s wrong? Where are you?”

“At school still. It’s Mom.”

“What’s Mom?”

“Call her.”

“Sarah, what’s going on?”

“Somebody disturbed Uncle Patrick’s grave.”

I would never get used to her calling him Uncle Patrick. It was weird, like me thinking of him as my brother- in-law. As it happened, Patrick had been murdered before Sarah was born. She was now older than he ever was.

“What do you mean, someone disturbed his grave?”

“I don’t know, Dad. Mommy was hysterical crying when she called me. You better call her.”

“Okay, I’ll take care of it.” There was that banging again. “One second!”

“Dad, did you say something?”

“No, kiddo, there’s somebody at the door.”

“So you’ll call Mom?”

“As soon as I get the door, yeah. I promise.”

“Call me later and let me know what’s going on.”

“I will. Thanks for calling me about this.”

“I love you, Dad.”

“You too, kiddo.”

The banging at the door was more insistent, but I wasn’t in the mood for anyone else’s crap. Divorce, no matter how amicable, isn’t easy, and Katy, Sarah, and I were still in the midst of realigning our hearts to deal with the new tilt of our worlds. That’s why Katy had moved back upstate, why Sarah had made work for herself in Michigan, and why I was watching raindrops in Sheepshead Bay. The last thing I wanted was to be dragged back into the thing that had blown us all apart. I must’ve looked pretty fucking fierce to Mrs. Dejesus, the maintenance man’s wife.

“For chrissakes!” She didn’t quite jump back at the sight of me. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Dejesus. I was on the phone with my daughter and…”

“Look!” she said, pointing down at my threshold and along the blue flecked terrazzo floor of the hallway. “Mud everywhere, Mr. Prager, to your door. And this!”

I knelt down to try and compose myself. There, on my welcome mat, was a withered red rose and, beneath it, drawn in the mud, was the Chinese character for eternity.


Boneyards were about the only places yellow crime scene tape seemed not to attract a crowd. The bold black CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS was rather beside the point. There wasn’t much of a crowd inside the tape either. Even that number was shrinking. With the one deputy sheriff gone to pick up his boss and Katy headed back to her car to dry off, only the younger deputy and myself remained inside the perimeter. The longer I stood out there, the easier it was to see why Katy was distraught. Her father’s headstone was toppled and smashed to bits, while eleven rain-soaked red roses had been neatly arranged in a circle on her mother’s grave.

Then there was Patrick’s resting place. Although Patrick Michael Maloney’s grave wasn’t quite empty, he, or what was left of him, was gone. The lidless coffin box was still at the bottom of the hole, buried now not by dirt but under several feet of rainwater and murky runoff. Splinters, jagged shards, and larger chunks of the muddy coffin lid were strewn about the family plot. Even in death, the most damage was done to Patrick.

“Fooking kids, vandalous little gobshites,” the caretaker said.

“Watch your mouth, Mr. Fallon,” said Father Blaney.

“Sorry, father, but it had to be them kids.”

I didn’t agree. “Kids? I wouldn’t bet on it. This was a lot of work, not just random vandalism.”

“And kids don’t leave roses,” added the priest.

“A sin writ large, no matter,” said Fallon. “In Ireland tis not how you treat the living by which yer judged, but by yer care for the dead.”

“Amen to that, Mr. Fallon.” The priest crossed himself.

Both men stood under the priest’s umbrella just beyond the yellow tape, neither seeming much bothered by the rain. The same could not be said for either the young deputy sheriff or myself. Father Blaney took notice.

“Come lads, get out of the wet.”

The deputy, feeling he had to prove himself, politely refused. I was too old to worry about proving anything to anyone, even if it meant sharing an umbrella with Father Blaney.

I’d known the man for more than two decades. He was an old world priest, as avuncular as a meat hook and as politically correct as a minstrel show. He didn’t exactly get touchy-feely with his parishioners. So it was no wonder that he and Francis Maloney had been thick as thieves and equally disdainful of me.

“How have you been getting on, Moses? I mean, since Katy’s seen the light and ridded herself of you.”

“I’m good,” I lied.

“A pity.” He showed me a crooked grin of gray teeth and chapped lips.

I almost laughed. One thing about Blaney, you always knew where you stood with the man.

“Do you suppose Katy will return to the church now that she’s returned to her senses?”

“I was born a Jew, Father. Katy chose to be one. What do you think the implications of that are for you?”

Fallon smiled. I’d never met the caretaker before that day, but I liked him for his smile. Blaney saw it too and

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