‘Me? Look in the mirror. Faith.’

He saw her hands tremble. ‘My mother always said I had dreadful taste in men. I think you and Pete proved her point.’

‘Go see your son at the jail. Faith. While you can. They don’t arrange visits between prisons.’

‘You’re a cruel bastard.’

‘I spent about five seconds feeling sorry for you,’ Whit said. ‘Lucinda dragged you into the cover-up, made you dirty your hands instead of her. But you did it, willingly, for years, Faith. If you hadn’t, Sam never would have had a reason to kill his father.’

‘You don’t know thing one about my life… what my life has been like…’

‘No, I don’t. I can’t comprehend it.’ He felt a tremor of revulsion that he’d ever touched her.

She stood. ‘We have very, very good lawyers. And I promise you, when justice is served and our names are cleared’ – a straight reading from their press statement, he thought – ‘you’re done in this town. You won’t be able to get a job scrubbing toilets.’

‘Probably not,’ he said. ‘I have a feeling you’ll have filled that position.’

Selected election results from the November 7 election: Texas Senate, District 20, (Encina County tally only): Aaron Crawford (R): 11,587 Lucinda Hubble (D)*: 939* Hubble formally withdrew from race 10/24 Justice of the Peace, Precinct One, Encina County: Buddy Beere (D)**: 12 Whitman Mosley (R): 5,347** deceased but not removed from ballot

Whit could only suppose those twelve voices of democracy did not read the newspaper or voted strict party lines, death and felonies notwithstanding. Whit watched the results with a somber Irina and Babe, gave Patsy Duchamp a neutral comment for the paper, and went to bed.

You don’t act like a judge and you end up getting elected, he thought before sleep claimed him. Politics is just strange enough for you to stay.

The Honorable Whit Mosley savored the beauty of the late January afternoon as the borrowed Don’t Ask puttered out of St Leo Bay and beyond Escudo and Margarita Islands. Before him lay the wide-open Gulf of Mexico, the sea gunmetal gray, the waves whipped by just-right wind. January had been warmer than usual, the breezes sweet, the sunlight healing. Gorgeous, the fresh air like vitamins sucked straight into his lungs.

‘You let me know if you get seasick,’ Whit called to Velvet. She sat in a chair, face tilted toward the sun. She had returned from L.A. for Sam’s trial, starting in two days, and had been quiet since Whit picked her up at the Corpus Christi airport. She had hugged him fiercely but said little, nodding when he suggested spending an evening out on the Gulf and out of the reach of the reporters.

‘Just don’t steer this leaking contraption like a drunk man.’

‘Speaking of drunk,’ Whit said, ‘where are these legendary margaritas you promised?’

‘I knew you’d put my ass to work.’ Her first laugh.

He dropped anchor and followed her down into the spacious cabin. She was dressed in casual jeans and rugby shirt, her hair pulled back into a modest ponytail, and skin lightly touched with makeup. This was the Velvet, he thought, that might have been if the cameras never rolled. The Velvet that still might be.

‘What can I do?’ Whit asked.

‘I don’t trust you to mix the booze right, but you can juice me some limes while I work my tequila magic’ She inspected the bottles in Gooch’s bar. ‘I’m gonna kick Gooch’s ass if there’s no Grand Marnier in here.’

‘I strongly suspect Gooch’s boat is Grand Marnier-free.’

‘Shows what you know.’ She raised a half-empty bottle in victory from the cabinet. ‘Just hiding back here, waiting for me.’

She began to rinse out a blender. He sliced the limes. They worked in amiable silence.

‘I should hate Sam and oddly I just feel sorry for him,’ Velvet said suddenly. ‘He doesn’t deserve it, but I do.’

Whit poured the lime juice into the cleaned blender she had set next to him. ‘I thought I knew what family tragedy was. I didn’t.’

Velvet poured liquor into the blender and turned it on. Whit moved behind her and hugged her, carefully. She leaned back against his shoulder. He felt the flutter of her sigh.

She finished the drinks and he tasted. ‘God, that’s good,’ he said.

‘A tart margarita is my specialty.’ She blinked. ‘That used to be a joke.’

He smiled. She didn’t smile or laugh much; he couldn’t blame her. They took the blender up to the deck. The two of them drank and played at fishing, caught nothing, and listened to a strange mix tape Gooch had made: Smashing Pumpkins, Italian opera. Patsy Cline, Jimmy Buffett. Sad songs but somehow not so sad they hurt. They sang along with Margaritaville, and Velvet leaned back against Whit’s chest.

The sun sank into the horizon. They cooked steaks, and Velvet blended another pitcher of margaritas. The night air was crisp but not damp, the breeze a constant caress. They talked as the moon rose, Velvet reminiscing about growing up in Omaha, Whit telling tall tales on his brothers, thinking. This is it, this is life, this is fixing her.

Sitting on the deck, Velvet and Whit watched the stars glimmer over the Gulf and finished the hearty dregs of margarita. Whit was drunk, pleasantly and amiably so, for the first time since coming back from Louisiana. Velvet leaned back against his chest, her hair scented with the tang of lime juice. The stars, away from the smears of light crowding the coast, were like virgin light glistening in their first night. Velvet started to count them.

‘Each one’s a wish you get to make,’ she said.

Whit let her get to a hundred before he kissed the side of her throat.

‘Don’t,’ she said.

He stopped. But she didn’t pull away from his arms, his lap.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I thought…’

‘I know, Whit. You want to make… what happened to me right. I love you for that. I’m not gonna let what that bastard did to me dictate the rest of my life.’

He was quiet, listening to the water lap against the hull. ‘But you don’t want me.’

She shook her head, turned to face him. She traced his jaw with her fingertip.

‘I got a Plan B. I’m going back to Omaha when Sam’s trial is done. No more movies for me.’

‘I’m glad. Very glad. But…’

‘And so, I’m kind of taking life slower. If you and me… well, it would just be for the short while before I left. I don’t want that anymore, Whit.’ She laughed softly. ‘I went so long not saying no, and now I say no to a guy like you. I got no brains.’

He kissed her once, softly, letting the boat rock them like a cradle, and finally she fell asleep against his shoulder. She slept in his arms until the morning, and he watched over her, counting the stars for them both.

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