He glimpsed movement outside the kitchen window and he leaned against the countertop and peered through the leaves of the dense shrub. All was still, yet his pulse jumped.
Settle down. Nothing’s going on. Must have been a hummingbird or butterfly flitting about the hibiscus blooms. He had nothing to be nervous about.
He returned his attention to his checklist, but a second later he saw the top of a head—blue baseball cap—passing the transom in the living room.
He hurried toward the sliding door facing the lake just as the intruder took the first step up onto the deck, his face shadowed by the brim of his hat, his shoulders squared and torso pitched forward as if he were going to ram through the glass.
Instinctively he pulled back. He hustled through the kitchen and into the bedroom where he kneeled in front of the safe mounted on the wall next to the headboard. His breath came short and sharp. He flipped the cover on the keypad and input the safe combination with shaky fingers. The lock didn’t release. He tried the code again with the same result and then a third time. Nothing. What the—
“I told you I changed the combination. It’s 7-8-4-2-1.”
He turned and was looking at the handgun he’d gone to retrieve from the safe, the center of the barrel a black hole of eternity staring back at him. That was definitely his weapon: the Beretta M9, walnut grip, which he’d never wanted to own but had been convinced to acquire. Because a man should have all the tools he might need someday. Because the gun had been a gift. He’d fired the weapon a few times at a range. He remembered the kick, like someone smacking his wrist. The first few rounds he sprayed, but with each additional clip he fired he’d gotten closer to the center of the human-shaped target. The experience had been unexpectedly satisfying: lethal shots to the chest and head, distance of forty feet.
The distance now was less than four feet. No aiming skill required for the shooter. No practice needed.
He remained on his knees in the perfect position to beg for his life or pray to God, not that he would do either.
That would require too much effort.
“I said get the fuck up.”
He placed a hand on the night table and raised himself into a squat and from there he groaned as he carefully straightened to a standing position, his head swimmy and balance flimsy, trying to decide what to do next, if there was anything he could do: talk his way out of this or lunge for the gun or tackle his opponent.
“You’ve come here to shoot me?”
“What do you think?”
“I think I was right about you.” His voice remained calm and measured which provided him a morsel of pride, but within him churned chaos and terror.
“Outside.” He waved the pistol toward the door. His arm trembled and the gunman placed his left hand over right to steady his grip.
They were both afraid.
He stepped through the slider and onto the deck, moving slowly, each foot forward his last one, expecting a bullet to explode in his brain at any second. He took the two steps down to the lawn, almost stumbling on the second one. A cool breeze licked his hot sweat. He faced the lake and squinted from the sun glinting off the water’s surface. Across the other side the hotels and shops in the village lined the shore and the horizon traced the familiar profile of the mountains he could sketch with his eyes closed.
It wasn’t the worst view to have as your last one, but he wasn’t ready. Not at all.
Art was against the idea of Anna spending the summer in Porter Lake, but he kept his mouth shut.
“I need to do something totally different this year,” Anna said.
She had arrived home last night after finishing her last semester of college.
“We don’t want anything related to school or career,” she said.
She and her friend, Kristen, from Colgate. They were in on this together.
“What are Kristen’s plans after graduation?” Deb asked. It was morning. Art was dressed and ready to leave for work. The three of them sat at the kitchen counter, drinking coffee.
“I just said—Kristen and I are going to Porter Lake together. When summer’s over she’s returning to Hamilton. She has a position in the admissions office as a recruiter.”
“Is she still seeing that professor?”
“They’re going to be living together now that Kristen is graduating,” Anna said.
Anna had told Art and Deb that Kristen had secretly slept with her psych professor all year, but now they could openly carry on a relationship following Kristen’s graduation.
“That’s in the fall,” Anna said. “We both really need this summer as a way to recharge. Especially me. We want to get away and swim and hike and relax and avoid stress for a few months.”
Deb drew in her lips the way she did when she was working out an equation. “It’s definitely been a challenging year,” she said. “There’s no question of that. Maybe some downtime before law school starts is a good idea.”
Art stiffened at Deb’s suggestions. They often talked about needing to be on the same page when it came to Anna, providing a united, consistent, and stable presence for their daughter, but Anna had sprung this on them and they hadn’t the opportunity to work out their position.
“Not just downtime,” Anna said. “We’re going to work, too.”
“I would hope so,” Deb said. Her lips had returned to their proper shape.
“What kind of work can you do in Porter Lake?” Art asked, finally joining the conversation.
“It’s a resort town,” Anna said. “We’ll find jobs there or in Lake Placid.”
“Seasonal, low-paying work. Do you think you’ll like that?” Art said.
“We’ll see. But whatever we do, it’s only for the summer.”
Art shrugged, as if none of this were consequential. “If that’s what you want to do we’re fine with it,” he said, aligning with what Deb had said. “You don’t need our permission.”
Although, he said, there was one other thing to consider: Anna, you’ve met Judge Kohler from the appellate court? Well, coincidentally, Art and Sam Kohler had been in line together at the coffee kiosk and the judge made a point of asking how Anna was doing, and Art saw an opportunity to put in a good word for his daughter. Now there’s an internship at the appellate court lined up for Anna—if she wants it.
“Working for Judge Kohler?”
“It would be a gem on your resume.”
“That was so nice of him to offer,” Anna said. “But I just can’t right now. I can’t. I already got into Columbia. My resume deserves a break and so do I.”
The last two summers, Anna had worked paid internships, one at the a U.S. Attorneys’ office, and last summer at a private law practice.
“I can use this summer to make sure I’m rested and ready when the semester starts,” Anna said.
Personally, he believed interning at the court was a better way of preparing for law school. Anna had already dropped a number of hints that Columbia would be extremely stressful for her.
Of course it would be stressful—it was law school. But if Anna could manage her anxiety, as she had this past year while finishing at Colgate, she’d be able to handle the rigors. Art had managed law school well enough in his day, and he hadn’t near Anna’s academic record or test scores.
“It’s a great opportunity, but I understand if you’re not up for it,” Art said.
“I wish you had asked me first.”
“It was a spur of the moment thing. We were just standing there chatting. But don’t worry, I’ll think of something to tell Judge Kohler.”
“You don’t have to tell him anything,” Anna said, cat-quick in her response. “I’ll take care of it. I want to at least thank him for considering me. I can tell him that you didn’t know I’d already made other commitments for the summer.”
Clever girl, their Anna, in so many ways. She saw how to make a positive impression on Sam Kohler while turning down a prime internship—and still getting to do what she wanted this summer. Ninety percent of the people in the world wouldn’t know how to successfully navigate the situation she just breezed through. They shouldn’t worry so much about her. She’ll make an excellent attorney.
Art had never once pushed her toward the law. She came to the decision on her own. The extent of Art’s involvement, other than bringing Anna to several take-your-daughter-to-work days, was answering her questions and explaining the variety of career options, the myriad types of clients you can encounter—all of them demanding, all of them in need if they’re speaking to an attorney—and about a good attorney’s ability to help them, not only in a legal manner, but in easing their fears, because one thing an attorney always had to remember was that behind every legal transaction, embedded in every contract and agreement, and driving every defense strategy, was an element of client fear. Art worked as a senior partner in a law firm that negotiated mergers and acquisitions among hospital and physician practices, where the fears centered around financial control, job security, and adhering to regulations, yet his clients were every bit as fearful as the man on trial for murder.
But Art could never speak this way to Anna now, not about client fears.
Anna had said she wanted to aid women who were underrepresented and unheard—immigrants and refugees, the poor, the domestically battered, which was why she’d taken the internship last year in the law office of Johanna Ruiz.
He wondered if she was still interested in that potential client base, but again, they weren’t talking about that now or looking that far ahead.
So, okay. If she had her heart set on spending the summer in Porter Lake with her slutty friend (no, don’t use that word, you stupid ape; free-spirited is what you mean), then that’s what Anna should do. It was her decision. She was an adult, and once your children became adults—even long before then—you had little control over them, and could not steer them away from mistakes. Most times, all you could do is help clean the mess after the shit hit the fan. At least that kind of dirty work shouldn’t be needed here. A summer living in Porter Lake and working next door in Lake Placid sounded fairly tame.
“When are you thinking of going up?” Deb asked.
“Right after graduation. We have to be out of our apartment by the fifteenth.”
They were all returning to Colgate for the commencement next weekend, and Art will get choked-up watching Anna receive her diploma. Then he and Deb were heading to Europe for a five-week odyssey through England, France, Germany, and Switzerland to celebrate 30 years of marriage. It would be their longest vacation ever, made possible by Deb declining to teach Calc II for the summer session and Art calling in favors from colleagues to cover his clients at the firm. Art had already penciled in Anna to house-sit for them while she interned in Albany at the appellate court, but now the Bethlehem house would sit empty for a month, although the Porter Lake house wouldn’t.
As if Anna were tuning into his thoughts, she said, “We were wondering about staying at the house. If that’s okay with you. We could save money that way.”
“Of course you can stay there,” Deb said. “You don’t have to ask. That’s why we have it. MJ will probably come up for a week, though. She usually does. So coordinate with her.”
“That would be great,” Anna said. She looked at Art. “What’s that face for?”
“You did. You grimaced.”
“I wrenched a muscle in my back,” Art said. “It’s sore when I move the wrong way. But I’m fine with the house. Really. Mom’s right. It only makes sense that you stay there.”
They’d owned the waterfront property on Porter Lake adjacent to the village of Lake Placid and its larger lake since he and Deb were first married—a lavish wedding gift from Margaret, who could afford to fulfill her son’s dream of having a waterfront house in the Adirondacks. When the girls were little and Deb not working, Deb would spend most of the summer up there, with Art joining them on weekends. Now that Deb was teaching again at the university they haven’t gone up as much the past few summers. And they’d both given up downhill skiing, so last winter they’d used the house only once, just after the New Year for a winter weekend getaway, and this summer they were going to be in Europe for a month. They’d talked about selling the property, but Deb wanted to hang onto it for Anna and MJ, and for the grandkids, Dylan and Sophie, and the grandkids still to come. There were a lot of precious family memories created in Porter Lake, and a few memories Art wished he could forget.
He contracted now with a management company that maintained the property and rented the house through Airbnb. He’d have to call and have the listing removed, and any deposits from renters returned.
When he got up from his chair to clear their cups, he felt a pinch deep inside. He’d like to say he injured himself serving an ace down the T on the deuce court or driving a golf ball three-hundred yards down the fairway, but all he’d done was reach to turn off a floor lamp yesterday and he felt a sudden tug that hasn’t gone away. Last night, after the muscle tweak, he was uncomfortable in bed, with the pain creeping into his shoulder and chest. He’d slept poorly and was bleary this morning, and Anna’s summer plan wasn’t helping his mood.
“I’ll give you the number of Northern Property,” Art said. “Tell them when you’re coming and they’ll send you a code for the lock.”
“I still have a key,” Anna said.
“We’ve gone to a programmed lock with all the renting.” He drew in a long, careful breath. He should call his massage therapist; she’ll be able to rub the knot away. “Unless you change your mind and want to work for Judge Kohler. He’d be a great mentor to you. But it’s totally up to you.”
“I’m not changing my mind,” Anna said. “But I appreciate you were trying to help me.”
The appellate court—that would be a safe place to work. There were armed guards at the entrances. There were security checkpoints and metal scanners. He wondered if he should point this out to her. He decided he’d better not.
But why shouldn’t he have advocated for Anna with Sam Kohler? He was a father who saw a chance to help his child. That’s what parents do—it’s called putting your loved ones first. You don’t like it? Sue him.