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The Night Visitor

Gorgeous and successful, Rory Langtry seemed to have it all. Daughter of a movie star and sister of a supermodel, Rory was engaged to sexy artist, Junior Lara. But her bright future went dark one terrible, bloody night that left her sister dead and the accused murderer, Junior, in an extended coma.

Now, five years later, Rory appears to have put the past behind her. She has a wonderful new fiancé and heads a successful cosmetics company… yet dark secrets threaten.  Across town, Junior lies close to death but before he departs he seeks to clear his name.

It starts with a feeling. It turns into a vision. Soon Rory has sensations that only Junior could experience—from the horrifying to the erotic. Then she learns details about the awful night that only Junior could know, newfound knowledge with potentially fatal consequences. When another act of violence rocks her family, Rory plunges deeper into the unsolved mystery, led by an inexplicable visitor to a dangerous time and place where all will be revealed at last. But until then, Junior will not let her go…

“A taut, gripping paranormal thriller from page one. You won’t be able to put this book down as Rory—a woman who has everything—fears all she believes is a lie. Excellent!”Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of Maximum Exposure

The Night Visitor grabbed my attention on page one and never let up. It’s a creepy, crafty thrill ride, and I enjoyed every word. I’ll be looking for more of Dianne Emley’s books.”Karen Robards, New York Times bestselling author of Her Last Whisper

Chapter 1

Junior Lara saw the doves and knew something was wrong. They were loose inside the loft, flying in crazy circles, their beating wings stirring the air, scenting it with musk.

A gust of warm wind blew through the open windows. It carried a trace of something sweet and earthy.

The back of Junior’s neck prickled. He stood with his hand against the edge of the antique elevator’s door, hesitating before stepping into his loft apartment.

“Anya? You here?”

He peered up the long staircase that led to the roof. The door at the top was open. He shouted up the stairs, “Anya!”

Looking around the loft, Junior saw Anya’s purse and two cell phones on the big library table. “You’re here someplace. You wouldn’t go off without your beloved cell phones.”

He knew what she’d done. She’d gotten bored waiting inside the loft and went up to the roof to see the doves, and she had left the door to the coop open. The light had drawn the birds inside. He’d told her that he was on his way, but she couldn’t sit still for a few minutes, and now his place was a mess. But where was she?

“Dammit, Anya.”

It was wrong. Wrong from the get-go. Anya was bad news. He knew it, but he’d done it anyway.

He flipped off the lights and started on the windows along one wall of the loft, working by moonlight. He shooed birds outside and cranked the tall casement windows closed. Two of his favorite doves landed on his head and shoulder and rode with him, cooing and picking at his hair.

The wind gusted. Screens that partitioned the bedroom scuttled against the concrete floor. Magazine pages rustled. Loose drawings took flight. Pencils and charcoals rolled. Paintings on easels caught the wind like sails. The doves had been calming but took flight anew, circling, the moonlight luminescent on their feathers.

Junior cursed when he caught his foot on a stack of canvases leaning against a table and they clattered to the floor.

“Can’t sit still and wait ten minutes, can you, Miss Diva?”

He reached a corner and stopped before going to the windows along the adjacent wall. The back of his neck prickled again. He resisted an urge to turn on the lights. He’d never get the birds out that way. But something was giving him the creeps. It wasn’t the doves. They’d done this before. It wasn’t the darkness. He often painted by moonlight, enjoying the still and quiet of the quirky old building in the desolate neighborhood. It wasn’t the hot wind. The Santa Anas made others edgy but energized him. It was something else. There was a vibration, a tension in the air, formless and weightless, but palpable. It had slithered beneath his skin and nagged the pit of his stomach.

He thought of his fiancée, Rory. He wanted her here. He hated having lied to her. Mistakes on top of mistakes. It was time to come clean and tell her everything. Now.

He brushed his pets off him and pulled a cell phone from his pocket. He brought up Rory’s number and was about to make the call when something caught his eye. He’d left easels set up in front of the windows beside a vintage sofa. One easel displayed the nude portrait he’d painted of Anya. On the second easel was a framed painting, silhouetted by the moonlight. He blinked, not believing what he now saw. The two paintings seemed alive, undulating in the wind. They’d been reduced to ribbons, the strips of canvas flying like the torn fabric of a kite’s tail.

“I know you had a problem with it, but son of a bitch, Anya.”

The wind quieted, settling the tattered canvases, only to scatter them again.

Junior crossed the room, heading for the shredded paintings. Near the sofa, he slipped. The floor was wet and slick. Pitching forward, grabbing on to the sofa to not fall, he skidded into something solid yet soft on the floor behind it. It was Anya.

Even in the dim light, he saw her sultry gaze. Her full lips were parted, and her dark hair was splayed around her head. It was the pose in which she’d been photographed thousands of times.

Junior realized that her face wasn’t shadowed but was covered with blood. He scrambled to get away, holding on to the sofa, fighting the suction pull of the blood. He sensed motion close behind him. It wasn’t the wind. It wasn’t the doves. Before he got to his feet, he was again falling.

There was a flash or a bang—he wasn’t sure which. He was suddenly on the cold, bloody floor but strangely distant from his senses. Anya’s limp form in the moonlight faded as darkness closed in. He grappled to fix a thought in his head, something to sustain him, to keep him here and away from the darkness. Rory. He focused on Rory. Scenes from their life together flashed through his mind. He seized them and held on tightly.

The darkness crept closer. He tried to hold on to the light, but bit by bit it ebbed until all that he had been was reduced to a pinprick. Then, life as he had known it was over.

Chapter 2

Five Years Later

Daniel Lara burst into the lobby of the run-down hospital in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood east of downtown L.A.’s Chinatown. He shoved a rolled magazine into his jacket pocket, snatched a pen that dangled from a chain attached to a clipboard on the scarred wooden counter, and wrote his name on the visitor’s log in an illegible scribble.

The hospital’s lobby was a dingy rectangle floored in pocked linoleum. Steel and plastic chairs lined the walls. A television on a wall was tuned to a Spanish-language station. A Latino couple sat on the uncomfortable chairs watching it. A boy and a girl played on the floor with toys pulled from a bin in the corner.

“My man, Danny boy.” The guard looked up from the sports section of a newspaper. Danny had become such a fixture at the hospital that the guard was already making out a visitor’s badge. “Look at you, lady-killer. Pressed and prettied in a suit and tie. You got a date or somethin’?”

“Hey, Johnnie.” Danny took tissues from a pocket and wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead. He glanced at the clock on the wall behind the guard, rolling his feet from heel to toe.

“Give it up, Danny. Warm this old man’s dull night.”

Danny was wearing a dark suit that had belonged to his brother, Junior, plus a blue shirt he’d bought at Walmart that day and a tie he’d found in his brother-in-law’s closet. The suit jacket drooped from his bony shoulders. He’d gotten a haircut. His wavy, dark brown hair set off his features—still striking even after the weight he’d lost.

He coughed wetly into the tissues. “Johnnie, yesterday a reporter got in and took pictures of Junior. How’d that happen?”

“Man, I’m sorry ’bout that. Broadsided me. Wasn’t expecting reporters. Haven’t had to watch out for that sort of thing in a while. Corliss found the guy beside Junior’s bed. I was gonna tell your mom the next time she came by. I deleted the pictures off the guy’s camera. Think I did, anyway.”

“Tonight’s the five-year anniversary of the shootings.”

“Damn. Been that long?”

Danny coughed again, holding the tissues over his mouth. The fit went on. He looked sheepishly at Johnnie, who was frowning.

“You see somebody about that cough?”

Moonlight.

Doves.

White shimmering.

Black.

Eyes soulless.

Wings beating.

The vision powerfully entered Danny’s mind. His eyes became distant as he saw the hospital lobby through a film of white doves in flight. Around and around they flew, circling in moonlight, their feathers glistening, their eyes black and shiny.

“Danny, hey. You all right?”

In his mind, Danny said, I know, bro.Been a long wait.But it’s gonna reach a conclusion tonight.

“Danny boy?”

“Yeah, yeah. Johnnie, look. Here’s a heads-up. There’re gonna be more reporters trying to get in here to see Junior.”

“Okay.” The guard considered Danny’s statement. “Why?”

“No. Really. Listen. You’ve gotta watch out. You’ve gotta be vigilant, man. Always.”

Johnnie looked hard at Danny. Junior Lara’s little brother was just twenty-two years old, but the years that had passed since Junior’s gunshot injury had taken a toll on Danny, more than on Junior’s sister or even his mother. Before the shootings, Danny had been a popular high school jock. Now he was gaunt, his skin was sallow, and his behavior had become increasingly strange. Lately Danny nearly lived in Junior’s hospital room. Corliss, the lead nurse in the subacute unit, had confided that Danny believed he could communicate telepathically with his minimally conscious brother. Johnnie had gotten used to Danny’s bizarre but harmless behavior, but tonight Danny was different. Edgy. What Danny was telling him now alarmed him, but he didn’t know where to go with it.

Danny again looked at the wall clock. He shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, where his fidgeting didn’t stop. “Junior’s not good. He’s . . . You know, he’s on his way out. I don’t want him bothered with all that mess. I need to know I can count on you. Huh, Johnnie?”

“What’s goin’ on, buddy? You seem kind of . . . I don’t know. Is something gonna happen or something?”

Danny smiled. His smile was still winning. “Something always happens. Just gotta go with the flow. Right, my man? Gotta go.”

He pushed through the swinging doors that led into the hospital.

“Hey, how . . . ?”

Danny turned down the corridor and was gone.

Johnnie watched the doors swing on their springs until they fell still. He finished the question to himself: “How did you know about that reporter taking Junior’s picture? I haven’t seen your mom yet to tell her. Corliss probably called her. Yeah, that’s it.” Satisfied with his explanation, he returned to the newspaper.

Chapter 3

Danny followed a familiar route to his brother’s room in the subacute unit, turning down a hallway and then another, as he savored the images in his mind.

Doves.

Flying.

Eyes.

Shining.

Blood.

Moonlight.

Gunshot.

Darkness.

“Bro, you’re troubled, but don’t be. Tonight is your night. Our night. Tonight, finally, justice for you. Vengeance for you. For our family.”

The nurses and hospital staff didn’t pay much attention to Danny. He was a frequent visitor.

He reached beneath his too large jacket and gingerly touched his lower back, wincing. He stopped walking, opened his eyes wide, and looked around with apprehension, as if he’d just discovered that the building was on fire. His senses were hyperacute. Every sight and sound was exaggerated and surreal.

He scrunched his eyes closed and blindly reached to support himself against a wall. He paused there, massaging his forehead, leaning forward, tipping toward the ground. He abruptly jerked upright, opened his eyes, and vigorously shook his head, trying to shed a feeling of profound disappointment.

Junior, I know what you’re up to.You’ve been trying all week, haven’t you?I was too dense to figure it out until now.You can’t reach her, man.You think the woman’s been spending any of her rich-ass, white-bread life over the past five years thinking ’bout you?She don’t care ’bout you, bro, but you still love her.That’s the part I don’t get.Woman blows away her own sister, shoots you in the head, and you still love her.

Danny said aloud, “If that’s what true love does to you, I’m glad I’m going out without having any part of it.”

Chapter 4

Aurora “Rory” Langtry was standing in the Napoli Suite of the Villa del Sol d’Oro with her back to an antique mirror. Holding an ebony-framed hand mirror in front of her, she examined the rear of her head, grimacing as she tentatively touched her stiff hairstyle, which was held in place with a nest of bobby pins. It had been a mistake to let her hairdresser talk her into fashioning her long blond hair into a vintage updo.

At the sound of soft rapping, Rory dropped the mirror onto a settee, crossed the suite’s sitting room, and opened one of the double doors.

“There she is, the belle of the ball.”

“Aww . . . Thank you.” Rory leaned forward and gave Tom a peck on the lips, not wanting to get makeup on him or to muss hers.

He took her hand and pulled it to his lips. “I mean it. You look beautiful.”

She lowered her eyelids. “You’re going to make me blush. But, Tom . . .” She turned her back to him. “Look at my hair. I think I made a mistake.”

“I’d rather look at your ass in that gown.” He took in the way the pink, beaded silk revealed the curves on her tall, slender body, particularly when she leaned over the settee.

She was thirty, he was thirty-two, and they’d just gotten engaged.

She continued studying herself in the two mirrors. “I told Kevin that I wanted something different. I didn’t expect senior prom circa . . . I don’t know, 1973. I look like an old PR photo of my mom, minus the red hair and false eyelashes.”

“I like your hair like that. It’s sexy. Shows off your neck.”

He walked to her, took the mirror from her hand, slipped his arms around her waist, and nuzzled her neck.

She giggled and staggered backward on her high-heeled Manolos until she was stopped by a library table. She slid her hands across his broad shoulders in his tuxedo jacket and up his strong neck, tightening her fingers in his dark brown hair.

He ran his hands around her hips. “What are you wearing under there?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

“Maybe I will.”

She yelped when the table he had pressed her against skidded on the Asian carpet, jostling the porcelain figurines arranged on top. She twisted in his grasp and attempted to steady the tottering ornaments.

“Isn’t breakage always blamed on the household staff?” While she was facing away, Tom took the opportunity to accost her from behind.

“So, you want my mother to fire a maid because of our silliness?” Laughing, she swatted at him and tried to turn, but he held her immobile. She again cried out when the figurines threatened to topple.

He moved her toward the settee. “I just had a wild thought.”

“Don’t even. My mother would kill me.”

“She doesn’t have to know.” He began hiking up the yards of luxurious fabric.

“She’ll know. Believe me. She knows everything that goes on in this house. She’ll come knocking on the door. Any second. You watch. Or she’ll send up Rosario on some errand.”

“I thought the chance of getting caught turned you on. Remember the Cascade Room?”

“But we didn’t know anybody in Seattle.” Rory held his face between her hands. “I don’t even think I could in this house.”

“You’ve never done the nasty in your mother’s villa?”

She shivered with the thought. “Something about this place has always given me the creeps. When my mom married Richard Tate, I didn’t decide to stay with my aunt and uncle on a whim.”

“There’s always a first time.” Tom kissed her skin around a necklace of pink diamonds and emeralds that she had on loan from a Beverly Hills jeweler.

She softly moaned. “You present an excellent argument, counselor, but I’d rather wait until the gala’s over and we escape to my little beach condo, where there are no porcelain figurines to knock over.”

He grabbed her butt in both hands and gave it a squeeze. “Well, the thought of this will have to sustain me through tonight’s festivities.”

“You’ll have a good time at the party.” She playfully slapped his arm at his dubious expression. “Really.It’s our biggest turnout. We’ve taken in a bundle of money for TOV. Even people from the Westside are coming. My mom even invited my biological dad, Mr. A-List Actor whose name we do not speak.” She huffed out a laugh.

“Is he coming?”

“No. I’m sure Mom only invited him to rub it in that now she’s richer than he is.”

Out a window, she spotted a convoy of luxury sedans and SUVs proceeding up the long driveway. They stopped in the circular drive in front of the house.

“Who in . . . ?”

The car doors flew open, and young men and women began spilling out. They were dressed according to the theme of the ball—the women in evening gowns in hues of pink and the men in black tuxedos with pink boutonnieres. Their laughter was loose and lively, suggesting that they’d pre-partied elsewhere.

Rory glowered at them. “My stepbrother, Richie, his wife, Paige, and their friends. They were supposed to park in the Rose Bowl lot and take the shuttle like everyone else.”

“Shuttle? Richie and Paige and the junior members of the USC Cardinal and Gold club don’t do shuttles.”

Rory laughed. “Said like a true UCLA Bruin.”

Without warning, her knees buckled. Tom barely grabbed her before she dropped to the floor.

Chapter 5

“Whoa.”  Tom guided Rory to a settee. “Ro, what’s wrong?”

“I just had the strangest feeling. I . . .” She stared intently across the room, not seeing the lavish furnishings but white doves flying, circling, their feathers shining silver. Around and around they flew. Their feathers churned the air against her face. She smelled their strange yet familiar musky odor. As quickly as the vision had appeared, it faded away.

“Your hands are clammy.”

She turned and looked at Tom as if surprised to find him there.

“Ro?”

She unsteadily got to her feet and walked to the floor mirror. She’d gone pale beneath her professionallyapplied makeup. She pressed her hand against her throat, the strands of gems cool beneath her fingertips. Her skin tingled with the sensation of hot breath.

“I think I’ve been working too hard. I’ve had hardly anything to eat today.”  She coughed.  “My chest feels sore all of a sudden.”

“Are you going to be able to go through with this tonight?”

“I have to.”  As the event’s cohostess and representing Langtry Cosmetics, she had little choice. She kept gazing in the mirror, examining her image as if it were new.

“Can I bring you something to eat?”  He moved to stand behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders, talking to her reflection.

“There’s a fruit and cheese plate on the butler’s table over there. You know my mom, thinking of everything.”

“I’ll get you something.”  He crossed the room, set crackers and slices of cheese on a small plate, grabbed a bottle of water, and brought the snacks to her.

“Thank you.”  She turned from the mirror to nibble a piece of cheese. “Maybe I should close my eyes for a few minutes. I am stressed about the ball. And it is the five-year anniversary of the shootings. It’s strange. For the past five years, I’ve avoided thinking about that night. I’ve hardly even thought about my happy times with Anya and Junior.”  She closed her eyes and thought of her only sister and Junior, her former fiancé.  “I just blotted them out. But lately I can’t get out of my mind what that horrible night must have been like— the blood, the terror.”

“It’s how you coped with it. There’s no right or wrong way to get through something like that.”

Rory’s color hadn’t returned.  “I suppose you’re right. The shootings were enough of a nightmare.  What happened after made it all worse.”  Junior’s family had turned on Rory, his sister publicly calling her a murderer, saying that Junior and Anya were having an affair and that Rory caught them and snapped.

She shook her head.  “Anya just had to have a portrait by noted artist, Junior Lara, with her posed in the nude.  Of course, she’d want a nude of herself.  She kept throwing more money at Junior to get him to do it.  He didn’t want to, even though he was broke from renovating that crumbling building he’d bought. He was afraid it would upset me.  I’m the one who convinced him to go ahead and give Anya what she wanted.”  Her voice rose with passion.

Tom quietly listened, his eyes sad. She’d never talked so openly to him about this before.

“Junior’s dream was to turn that building into galleries and living spaces for artists.  It was a money pit.”  Rory narrowed her eyes.  “Typical Anya.  Finding a way to manipulate a situation to get what she wanted.  Creating chaos. But she didn’t care.”

“I only knew her slightly, but she was a force of nature.”

“I’m still mad at her.  That’s why I’ve never gone to her grave. Getting my petty revenge.  Of course I’ve never gone to see Junior either.”

“I don’t know why you’d want to see Junior.  He murdered your sister and then did a bad job of trying to kill himself.”

“That’s the story.”

“What do you mean?”

“I guess I’ve never wanted to accept that he was capable of something like that.  That’s not the Junior I knew.”

Tom took her hands.  They were still cold and damp.  “In any event, you moved on with your life. You didn’t just move on, you flourished.  You’ve honored your sister’s memory. Look at how many people you’ve helped through The Other Victims.  Anya would be proud of you for starting that charity.  And you’ve kept her alive as the face of Langtry Cosmetics.”

“I do think Anya would be proud of TOV and the work we do. But she would totally know that keeping her as the face of Langtry was a cagey PR move on my part that helped launch my company into the big time. No one sees Anya’s photo without remembering her murder.  I can almost hear her, ‘So, you’re still trading on my image, huh, sis?”   Rory huffed out a laugh and again looked at her reflection in the mirror. “Maybe the past is seeking revenge on me.”

Tom turned her from the mirror to face him, breaking her soul-piercing gaze at herself.  “What’s past is past. It’s all about you and me now.”

“You sweet man.”  She reached to touch his cheek.

He pulled her hand to his lips and kissed her palm.   “Why don’t you take a few minutes to lie down and close your eyes? Although I don’t know how you’d lie down with that hair.”

“Put a rolled pillow under my neck. I’m not Evelyn Langtry Tate’s daughter for nothing. But I’m supposed to be downstairs, helping my mom greet the guests.”

“I’ll handle your mother.”

She blinked with surprise and joked, “You are being bold today.”

“You’ve got your sense of humor back. You must be feeling better. Take a little rest and I’ll see you downstairs.” He gave her a peck on the cheek, knowing not to risk smearing her makeup, and closed the door when he left.

Rory lay down on a couch, carefully arranging her gown. She fitted a throw pillow beneath her neck to avoid crushing her hairdo. Closing her eyes felt good, but the image of silvery doves circling in moonlight soon flooded her mind. She at first fought it but then surrendered, feeling as if she were flying among those beating wings and musky feathers, circling, swirling more tightly. She saw a pool of blood in moonlight. A gunshot. Darkness.

Her eyes flew open and she bolted up, gasping, feeling as if she were dying. She quickly left the room, afraid to be alone.

Chapter 6

Five years after the murder of Anya Langtry, the public was still fascinated with the lurid tale of the supermodel allegedly shot to death with her own gun by Junior Lara, the artist fiancé of Anya’s sister, socialite Aurora Langtry. Rory and Anya were fraternal twins—one blonde, one brunette; one dawn, one dusk—daughters of actress Evelyn Langtry and stepdaughters of old-money Richard Alvin Tate III. The story, if not the controversy, would have concluded the night of the shootings if Anya had carried a highercaliber weapon in her purse. Then the bullet that Junior had allegedly fired into his head behind his right ear after having slaughtered Anya would have killed him. Instead, the round from Anya’s Smith and Wesson snub-nosed .22 had ripped up only enough of Junior’s brain to land him in what the media inaccurately called an extended coma.

Saying Junior was in a coma only further romanticized the tragedy. “Coma” brought to mind a Sleeping Beauty scenario, with Beauty here the strapping, sexy, and talented Junior Lara, who needed only a kiss from his princess or perhaps an angel to cause him to open his eyes, arise from his bed, and stride back into his brilliant life.

But Junior wasn’t in a coma. He’d awakened from the coma three weeks after his injury, awakened as much as he ever would. The accurate medical term for his condition was “persistent vegetative state,” meaning that Junior was conscious but showed no meaningful responses to stimuli, such as following commands or conversing intelligibly. He was no longer strapping or sexy. He would never return to his former life or to anything that remotely resembled truly living.

Junior was on his back, wearing a well-laundered cotton gown and covered in a light blanket. He had once stood six feet tall. Now his atrophied legs were bent toward his chest and his arms were crooked toward his shoulders, the muscles having become so short that he could no longer straighten his limbs. His clawlike fingers held rubber bars to prevent his nails from cutting his palms. His mouth was open, gaping like a baby bird’s, and his lips stretched across teeth that appeared huge in proportion to his face. His dark brown eyes bulged from his emaciated skull. He seemed to consist of skin, bone, and sinew. His chin sported a neat goatee, trimmed daily by his mother. His hair was sheared close to his scalp, cut every two weeks by his mother in the same style she’d cut it for him when he was a boy. The long scar from the surgery for the gunshot wound was clearly visible, straight and white, across the right side of his head.

The respirator, which was attached to a breathing tube inserted into the tracheostomy in Junior’s neck, made an even, calming sound as it inflated and deflated his lungs. A monitor clipped to his index finger reported his blood pressure and heartbeat on a screen. A plastic sack of creamy liquid suspended from an IV pole drained into a feeding tube inserted into his stomach, hidden by the bedclothes. Also hidden was a catheter.

It was open to interpretation whether Junior was aware that his brother was standing beside his bed. Danny had no doubts about Junior’s level of awareness.

Hi, bro.Danny pulled a plastic chair to the side of the bed. He sat and held one of Junior’s hands with the rubber bar between both his hands.

Junior turned his head, and his eyes widened as they seemed to focus on Danny. The next second, Junior rolled his head on the pillow, his eyes again roaming, taking in the surroundings of where he’d lived for  years with the jumbled fascination of an infant. Junior’s head circled and his eyes again met Danny’s.

I’m not gonna get emotional on you or anything, Junior, and I’m not sure how to say this so you’ll understand.But being with you like this has been the best experience of my life.Danny closed his eyes and forced the message into his heart, beyond the realm of words. That’s where he and Junior communicated.

After seeming to stare intently at Danny, his dark eyes direct and fierce, Junior’s gaze again traveled the room and his mouth jawed the air.

Danny rubbed Junior’s head with one of his hands. You were always there for me, Junior.Remember that time we were walking home from the corner store and I hurt my ankle?I was pretty little.You always bought us a bottle of orange Crush and a bag of pepitas to share.I was walking on the curb and I slipped off and twisted my ankle.You carried me all the way home.Now it’s my turn to carry you, Junior.It’s been an honor to share this journey with you.To get justice for you and to clear your name.

Danny rose and leaned over to kiss Junior’s forehead. He pulled out the rolled magazine from where it jutted from his jacket pocket. He held the curled pages open and showed the cover to Junior. It was People magazine’s annual Fifty Most Beautiful People issue.

Junior turned his eyes to the magazine, his face contorting as if with fear. Just as his focus again skirted elsewhere, Danny opened the magazine to the page that had its corner folded down. On it was Rory Langtry, wearing a skimpy black dress and a come-hither look.

Junior took it in with the same expression of bewilderment and vexation he displayed during the nanosecond of attention he gave anything. His eyes again shifted away.

Danny turned the magazine to look at it himself. Her life has only gotten better.She put you here and went on her merry way because her rich family protects her.

“Hey, hot stuff. You look nice, Danny. You going out someplace?” An African American nurse with Corliss on her nametag stuck her head into the room. She was middle-aged, not tall, and she had a solid build and a big smile.

Danny looked up at her. “Yeah, to a party.”

“With friends?”

“They’re not my friends, but I’m gonna have the time of my life.”

“Oh . . . All right. As long as you have fun. I’ll be in to suction in a few minutes.”

“I’m leaving soon. Maybe you could wait.”

“Sure. No problem.”

After she’d left, Danny folded back the People to Rory’s photograph and tucked the magazine under Junior’s pillow. He reached into his jacket and took an envelope from an inside pocket. From it, he pulled out a rose-hued ticket to the La Vie en Rose Ball for The Other Victims. He held it in front of Junior’s face.

Junior took it in with his usual fleeting attention.

Danny looked at the ticket, then returned it to its envelope and put the envelope back into his pocket. He glanced into the hallway. It was quiet. The only other person around was Junior’s roommate, a minimally conscious, elderly man who was lying on his back in bed with his eyes open.

Danny stood and pulled the tail of his shirt from the front of his slacks. Tucked into his waistband was a .38 revolver. He pulled it out and held it up for Junior.

Junior’s eyes widened as he took in this object with no greater or lesser attention than he had given anything else Danny had presented.

Danny turned the gun this way and that, showing Junior all its angles, before slipping it back into his waistband and tucking in his shirt over it. He clasped Junior’s face between his hands and kissed his brother’s cheeks and forehead. Tears welled in Danny’s eyes and dropped onto Junior’s blanket.

Danny abruptly left the room, not looking back.

In the corridor he met Corliss, who was carrying the tubing and sterile catheters to suction the numerous tracheostomies in the unit. He grabbed her and kissed her hard on the mouth. She struggled to free herself, dropping the packages, but he held fast.

He stopped kissing her but still held her face and looked at her hard. “Thanks, Corliss. Take care of him.”

He continued down the corridor and left the unit.

Corliss touched her lips, reeling as she gaped after him.

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