It was a warm spring afternoon and Joe was in the garden, chipping at a life-sized block of wood. Already one could see the long flowing robes and hair, and the wings sprouting out of her back. Although her form and features were still crude, it was clear she was looking down and off to one side, an arm extended outward as if in guidance. Joe was carefully freeing the tip of her nose from the surrounding wood when a voice called to him from the house.

A young woman with long dark curls emerged from the kitchen door and walked over carrying a glass of lemonade. "Don't you want to come in for lunch? It's after one o'clock."

Joe took the glass. "I hadn't noticed. I'm kind of on a roll here."

"So was I, but even I had to come to a stopping point."

"How's the book coming along, by the way?"

"Pretty well. I think my agent will be pleased." She turned her attention to Joe's work. "This will look good with the one of the little boy you did last fall."

Joe nodded. "They're companion pieces."

"They're for St. John's, right?"

"I don't think so."

"I thought you had a commission."

Joe shrugged. "I have a warehouse full of stuff I'm sure will work just as well."

"Any particular reason not to give them these?"

"I don't want to." Joe sucked down the rest of the lemonade and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

The young woman was silent for a moment, examining the statue again. Even in its crude state, the future shape of its delicate nose, cupid's mouth and pointed chin were clear. She took back the empty glass. "I don't suppose your attachment would have anything to do with your model."

"I didn't use a model."

"Just the one in your memory." Her lips cured into a forgiving smile. "If you're hungry, come on in. I'm making lunch for myself and if you're lucky, I might make enough for two."

"I'll be along in a minute," Joe said.

For an instant she looked like she might hug him, but gave him a quick kiss on the cheek instead. "I love you."

Joe tugged a curl playfully, but said nothing. After she went back into the house, Joe picked up his tools and went back to carving Elise's face onto the mahogany angel.

* * *

Brent got off the plane and pushed his way through the crowds. He tried to hurry, only to be slowed down by the women in front of him, ambling slowly and chattering about nothing, their enormous bags blocking the aisle. Now that his own steps had slowed, his ankles fell victim to the stroller behind him.

As soon as they were out of the disembarking area, Brent ducked through the crowd and opened up his stride, scanning the walls ahead for flight monitors. He read down the list of arrivals and departures until he found the one he was looking for. "Dammit." He slung his laptop and carry-on over his shoulder and went to the nearest gate. "Excuse me," he said, placing his tickets on the counter. "Can you tell me how long flight 304 is delayed?"

The woman tapped a few keys. "Two hours."

"You've got to be kidding."

"I'm sorry." She tapped a few more keys. "It looks like your plane was coming from O'Hare, and they've been having thunderstorms."

"Well, at least the conference doesn't start until tomorrow. Thanks." He glanced at his watch, then headed into the milling crowds, stopping at the men's room to splash water on his face and run a comb through his hair. He peered into the mirror and was surprised as always by the number of lines that had sprouted around his eyes over the last few years. He rubbed them, but they didn't go away. He went to dry his hands under the blow drier, noting how bare they were, even though he hadn't worn a wedding ring in a long time. He rubbed the finger of his left hand. "Pavlov was right." He picked up his bags again and headed back into the hall, stopping at a kiosk to pick up a Wall Street Journal. Catching a headline that interested him, he looked for an empty seat.

Suddenly something of even greater interest caught his eye. He folded his paper and shoved it carelessly into his bag, then he looked around and made his way across the room to where the dark-haired woman sat reading a magazine while a little boy of five played on the chair next to her. Since he couldn't see the woman's face, Brent stared intently at the boy, blonde and gray-eyed, with features so similar to his own that Brent could scarcely breathe. Shaking now, Brent took a few tentative steps closer, trying to see the slender woman's face, but now she was bending over a bag, looking for something. She must have spoken because the boy looked at her, and Brent strained to hear her voice, but could hear nothing over the din of the crowds and the security reminders on the intercom. Finally the woman sat up and looked around. Brent turned away in disappointment.

"Stupid mistake," he said to himself as he walked down the hall, oblivious to the crowds. "As if I'd run into her here, of all places. Or anywhere at all."

He hurried through the gate into the main part of the airport and wandered aimlessly until the neon sign of a bar caught his eye. He went inside and ordered a double Absolut on the rocks. He sucked down the vodka quickly, not even wincing as it burned his throat and his stomach. He stared at the television without seeing it, ate a few peanuts, but remained locked in his own private thoughts.

After finishing his first drink, he ordered a second and took this one to the window. Outside the sky was gray and overcast and from this vantage point Brent could see the planes taking off and landing. Over and over, the pattern repeated; one plane picking up speed and vaulting itself into the air while another came in, small at first, then larger and larger, lowering its wing flaps and tilting its nose up like a bird as it landed gracefully on the tarmac.

Brent sipped his drink then ordered another, absorbed in the comings and goings. Nothing else mattered, not even the flight he had missed. The world closed in around him, leaving only people who came and went while he sat alone.

Chapter Forty-Seven

Joe and Brent sat with Ursula at her kitchen table. The white and yellow curtains were drawn against the evening and a brass hanging lamp provided cozy light as the men picked at the remains of their sandwiches. Ursula was smiling, the lines around her eyes folding into crinkles. "You two sure went to a lot of trouble to track her here. Funny, but Elise suspected you might get this far. She was tired and really should've stayed another day or two, but she didn't think she should chance it."

Joe glanced at Brent, who was scowling at his plate. "Is she going to stay in Mexico, do you think?"

Ursula shook her head. "There's nothing that appeals to her there." She picked up her teacup and took a sip. "She said she's going to Europe as quickly as she can get a ticket under her assumed name. She could be on her way right now."

"Which country?" Brent asked grimly.

"Honestly, she didn't say. She didn't want me tempted to tell."

"We can find her anyway," Brent said. "We know the name she's using. We have her passport number, we--"

"I don't know if we should be doing that," Joe said quietly.

"Why not? We've come this far."

Ursula stood up. "How about dessert?" She went into the kitchen and took a key lime pie out of the refrigerator. She put two slices on plates and brought them to the table. Finding the men still arguing, she gazed levelly at each of them in turn. "If you're going to carry on, you're going to have to take it outside. I raised four children who could think of nothing better to do than snip at each other. I've earned some peace and quiet."

Joe and Brent exchanged hostile looks, but said no more, transferring their attention reluctantly to their dessert. "The pie looks great," Joe said, although the tone of his voice didn't match the enthusiasm of his words.

"When you're finished, you can take showers if you like. One of you can sleep in my guest room and the other can sleep on the sofa. I'm sorry I don't have more space, but I converted my other rooms into a study and a studio."

"That's okay, "Brent said. "I don't mind sleeping on the sofa. We don't have any clean clothes, though."

"That's right," Joe said. "They're in the truck." He looked at Ursula. "Would you mind if--"

Ursula smiled primly. "I never lend out my car, but I'll drive you to get your things, unless you'd rather have the truck towed here."

Joe shook his head. "I think I'd rather wait until morning, when I can get it taken to a mechanic. There probably isn't anything wrong with it, but I'd rather be sure."

Ursula reached for her keys lying on the kitchen counter. "Well, come on then. Not you," she added, as Brent rose to his feet as well. "I don't need you two arguing any more. And besides, I'd rather someone stay here so I don't have to turn off all the lights and lock the doors."

Brent shrugged and sat back down. "Gives me more time with this pie."

* * *

Joe moved down the darkened hallway on silent feet. He emerged into the living room, its blond furniture rendered shadowy and suspicious in the ruddy glow from the fireplace. Joe could just make out Brent's sleeping form stretched out on the sofa, wrapped in a homemade quilt. The light from the fire was kind to his features, making him look young and vulnerable, like a tow-headed child.

Joe stood over him for a moment, his own features softening into something like pity. Then he shook himself and turned away, scanning the shadowy room. He made out the form of Brent's ruined coat lying across a chair and tried that first, digging his hand into first one pocket, then another, pulling out scraps of paper which he examined in front of the fire. Annoyed, he checked the pockets again, but there was nothing else.

He found Brent's pants on the floor and went through those next, but had no better luck. Increasingly agitated, he checked the leather overnight bag, groping through every pocket, fold and crevice, producing plenty of folded paper, but not the one he was looking for. Exasperated, he sat on the floor and buried his face in his palms. After a minute he looked up. Silently, he made his way to the sofa and reached a tentative hand under the pillow. Brent stirred, but his eyes didn't open. Joe reached deeper until his hand encountered something. His fingers closed over it and he slowly drew it out.

Joe moved to the hearth and unfolded it. This was the one. Without giving himself a chance to change his mind, he opened the mesh screen and tossed it in.

A hand grabbed him from behind and brutally threw him to the floor. "What do you think you're doing?" Brent grabbed a poker and thrust it into the fire.

Joe sat up, stunned but calm. "Give it up. It's over."

Brent continued poking at the fire but found only blackened bits of ash. "We'll never find her now. That was all we had left to go on. That was--"

"I want this to be the end of it. I'm tired, you're tired...I'm sure she's tired. Let's just stop."

"Like hell I will." Brent stood up, brandishing the heavy poker. "Maybe you're done looking, but I'm not. If I have to go to the ends of the earth to find her, I will."

"Good luck. You'll have to find some way to get those social security and passport numbers again, unless you plan to knock on every door in Europe."

"You sorry bastard. I ought to kill you." Before Joe could react, he brought the poker down with lethal force. Joe ducked out of the way and wrenched it from his hands.

Brent tried to wrest it back and they struggled, rolling on the floor and panting, until Joe managed to throw it out of reach of either of them. Brent brought his fist down on Joe's face but before he could punch him again, Joe pinned him to the floor and held him there while he struggled and cursed. It took several minutes, but at last Brent lay calm.

"You can let me go," Brent said.

"Not if you're going to pull that shit again."

"I won't."

Joe watched without comment as Brent sat up and buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with silent tears. After a moment he retreated silently to his own room, where he threw himself on the bed, drawing deep ragged breaths and waiting for his own tears to come. When nothing happened, he rolled over and gazed out the window.

A full moon had risen and was shining like daylight through the slats of the blinds. Joe sat up and pulled the cord, flooding the room with cold white light. Then he lay back down, gazing up at the distant satellite-- a world unto itself, so unlike his own. For a long time he stared, mesmerized by the moon's cold, distant beauty, by the way it seemed close enough to touch while remaining tantalizingly unreachable. Joe stared at it so long that finally tears came to his eyes, and he rolled over and buried his face in the pillow so the moon wouldn't see him cry.

Chapter Forty-Six

Brent dug through the manila envelope, repopulating his pockets with keys, wallet, papers and some loose change. He pulled out his belt and threaded it through two loops before realizing he would need both hands for this task. He left the belt hanging for now and dug in the envelope again, retrieving his wedding band from the corner. He examined it, then dropped it in his pocket with his change. He opened the mouth of the envelope and peered inside. Finding it empty, he crumpled it and tossed it into a nearby trashcan.

As he pushed his belt through the remaining loops he walked to where Joe sat threading his shoelaces through his work boots. "The battery in my phone is dead, but I've got some change. You want me to call a tow truck?"

"Sure," Joe said. "I'll wait here for you."

Brent opened his wallet, took out his AAA card and walked over to the pay phone. He was on the phone for several minutes. Then he dropped a few more coins in the phone and placed another call before returning to where Joe was putting his personal belongings back in his pockets. "I also called a cab. It should be here in a few minutes. The tow truck will be out where we left the truck in about an hour."

"Is that the best they could do?"

"So they say. Sometimes they show up in twenty minutes and surprise you."

"They better not surprise us." Joe looked at his watch and frowned. "The truck is at least half an hour from here and I don't want to miss the guy."

"We could just take the cab to Ursula Docet's and skip the truck for now."

Joe nodded. "Let's do that. Call and cancel the tow. It should probably go straight to the shop, anyway. I'll go outside and look for the cab."

Brent hurried back to the phone while Joe pushed through the heavy doors. Outside it was still light but the sun was setting, casting long shadows through the ragged scraps of clouds from recent storms. Joe passed a few dejected-looking men sitting on the steps and a disheveled woman leaning against the handrail, pouting like a naughty child. On the sidewalk Joe scanned the street for cabs. Brent joined him after a few minutes. "Nothing, huh?"

Joe shook his head. "At least it'll be easy to spot it when it arrives. Hardly any traffic for some reason."

"That's because it's Sunday," Brent pointed out.

Joe wheeled around. "You've got to be kidding." He counted the days on his fingers. "I was supposed to go to a showing today. A friend of mine. Works in metal, like I used to."

"Yeah, and I was supposed to go back to my job two days ago. Life has been going on without us." Brent leaned against a wall and tried to smooth his hair with his fingers. He watched as a red Mustang pulled up to the curb and one of the men waiting on the stairs jumped in. After scanning the road from this vantage point for several more minutes, he thought he spotted something in the distance. Joe spotted it too, and the shape soon resolved itself into a yellow cab, which after stopping for a light, pulled up in front of them.

The driver rolled down his window. "Cab for Brent Conner."

Brent hurried over. "That's me." He opened the back door, and he and Joe jumped in.

"Where to?"

Brent pulled Ursula Docet's address out of his pocket and gave directions. Then he settled back against the thick vinyl cushions, closing his eyes at the comfort of being in a cab after the miserable cell floor and steel benches. Joe did the same, even as he tried at first to stay alert in order to admire the beauty of downtown at dusk, the red glow of the setting sun setting the glass buildings on fire as shadows lengthened and darkened into purple. Finally Joe gave in to his exhaustion, and by the time the cab entered the freeway, both men were asleep.

* * *

The slowing of motion and the sound of tires on gravel awakened them. Brent sat up and looked around, then pulled out Ursula's address and anxiously scanned the road. Joe glanced at the passing countryside with only marginal interest. Noticing Brent's eager expression, he said. "I don't mean to douse your enthusiasm, but don't get too excited. She won't be there."

"Even if she isn't, we can find out where she went next. She's got to stop running sometime."

"Yeah, but when?" Joe rubbed the spot on his finger where his wedding band had been. "We had a lot of time to think back there, and I'm beginning to wonder if Elise's friends have a point. We've got no business pursuing her like this. I've always promised her that whatever it was she needed, I would love her enough to give it to her. Maybe I need to give her this, too."

"Have you lost your mind? She'll regret this if we let her get away with it."

"Probably," Joe agreed. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't let her do it. If she's making a mistake, she'll just have to find a way to live with it."

"I can't believe you're saying this, after all we've been through." Brent sputtered. "This is just--"

"Is this the house?" the driver interrupted.

Brent compared the number on the mailbox to the one on the piece of paper in his hand. "Yes, how much do I owe you?" He reached for his wallet, but Joe's hand on his arm restrained him.

"I've got this."

"I called this cab and I want to pay," Brent protested.

"She's still my wife and I don't want to hear any more about it." Joe handed a credit card to the driver.

Brent fidgeted while Joe signed the receipt and put his card away. When they got out and walked up the path to the front door, though, he started to slow down, and just as Joe was about to knock, Brent touched his coat sleeve. "Wait. Schroedinger's cat."

"What are you talking about?"

"Schroedinger was a scientist, and he wanted to put a cat in a box with a bottle that might or might not contain poison gas, and then break the bottle. He figured there were two realities-- one where the cat lived and one where it died. Until he opened the box and looked, both possibilities were true."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

Brent sighed. "Because as long as we don't knock on that door, Elise might be in there. Once somebody comes to the door, though, we'll know for sure."


"So we might not like the answer."

Joe shrugged. "I already know she won't be there." He rapped several times on the door. "And that was a pretty mean thing to do to the cat."

Soon there was a scrabbling with locks and the door flew open. A tiny woman stood framed in the entryway, thin and erect with a dancer's carriage, pale blue eyes as piercing as a bird of prey's looking from one face to another. Her voice, however, was sweetly accommodating and gave lie to the boldness of her gaze. "Can I help you?"

Chapter Forty-Five

Brent and Joe found spaces on the bench as the cell door clanged shut behind them. The cell was a little cleaner now, having been hosed down while they were gone. Brent couldn't sit still. "Man, that was just too weird."

"What was?"

"Court. The judge. You didn't think it was strange we only got charged with trespassing?"

"Suits me," Joe said with a shrug, leaning back against the wall.

"Yeah, but what about breaking and entering? Destruction of property?"

"They didn't charge us with those. You want to go back there and argue about it?"

"Well, no."

"Then shut up." Joe closed his eyes. "Unlike you, I wasn't able to sleep when we first got here."

Brent looked around, still agitated. "Maybe since the door frame was so obviously rotted..."


"Or maybe the owner just didn't want to press charges."


"Do you think it's possible--"

Joe opened his eyes. "I think just about anything is possible at this point. Even you letting me get some sleep."

"So you're not the least bit curious?"

"Nope." Joe closed his eyes again. "They charged me with trespassing, I pled no contest, judge fined me $500 and I put it on MasterCard. Once they've taken their time about validating everything, they'll let me out, probably sometime this evening. That's all I need to know." He fidgeted a little, trying to find the best spot for his head against the wall. "Ought to be enough for you, too. Take a nap. Nothing else to do around here."

Brent wadded his coat behind his head and tried to do as he was told, but the sounds of other men stirring, getting up to urinate, and making the occasional monosyllabic comment to each other made his eyes flicker open every few minutes. Finally the distant rumbling of the food cart gave him an excuse to sit up. "Wake up," he said, shaking Joe's shoulder. "They're bringing lunch."

Joe opened his eyes. "I don't know why you're so interested. It won't be any better than breakfast."

"Yeah, but I think I'd eat just about anything at this point," Brent said, getting to his feet.

Both men got in line. This time the guard was passing out sandwiches in plastic bags and a red beverage in little paper cups. Brent got his, sat down on the bench and examined the sandwich with dismay. "Plain processed cheese on white bread? They call this food?"

"I thought you were hungry enough to eat anything.”

"I may have been wrong." He sniffed at the cup of red liquid. "And what's this? Kool-Aid?"

"I think so." Joe took a sip. "It'll do."

Brent pondered his sandwich again. "What time do you think they'll let us out?"

"Probably around four or five."

Brent nodded. "I can wait that long."

"We won't have a ride," Joe reminded him. "We'll have to call a tow truck to go out there with us and get the truck out of the ditch before we can do anything. And there's no guarantee the truck won't need to go to the shop before we can drive it."

Brent sullenly took a bite of the sandwich.

Joe laughed at the expression on his face. "You'd think someone was trying to poison you."

"It sure tastes like it."

"Welcome to how the other half lives. There are people who eat like this every day."

Brent didn't answer, and the two men finished their lunch in silence. Then Brent adjusted his coat, trying to find a suitable position for a nap, but couldn't get comfortable.

"What's the matter?" Joe finally asked.

"Just this damn sweater. It shrunk after getting wet, and it feels like a straightjacket."

"Wasn't bothering you last night."

"Nothing bothered me last night."

"Take it off."

"Maybe I will." Brent pulled the sweater off and examined it regretfully. "Too bad." He heaved a sigh and wrapped himself in his coat. "That was a nice sweater." A few minutes later he appeared to be sleeping, leaning back against the wall, his long legs sprawled out in front of him.

Joe tried to sleep too, but couldn't manage it. He glanced around the room from time to time, but saw nothing in the sleeping drunks and sullen petty offenders to hold his interest. As the minutes passed however, his gaze returned to the teenager huddled in the corner, hugging his legs tightly to his chest. From time to time he rubbed his bare arms. Joe frowned and fingered his own warm jacket. Then his glance fell on Brent's abandoned sweater. He got to his feet, picked it up and went over to where the boy was sitting. "Kinda cold in here."

The boy looked up. His expression of vague distrust softened a bit for the man who had given him breakfast earlier. "Yeah."

Joe tossed the sweater at him. "I thought this might fit you. My friend can't wear it any more."

The boy looked over to where Brent was now sitting up, watching the transaction.

"You sure?"

"If you want it. I don't care. We can throw it in the trash."

The boy examined the sweater, stroking the damaged but still-soft wool. Then he pulled it over his head and fished around for the arms. He tugged it into place, and it was a perfect fit. "I bet I look like a preppy now."

"Nothing wrong with that," Joe shrugged. "Life seems to be a little easier for folks who play by the rules. Maybe you'll fool someone."

The boy darted a glance at Brent. "You sure he doesn't mind?"

"If he does, he'll get over it."

"He a friend of yours?"

Joe hesitated. "God help me, but I think he is."

Brent was watching when Joe returned to the bench and sat down. "What'd you do that for?"

"Kid seemed to need it. It sucks to be that young and in jail. Sucks even more if you're cold. I hope you don't mind. I assumed you didn't want that sweater any more."

"What was I going to do with it? I probably would've just thrown it away. It never occurred to me to give it to someone who needed it." He looked a little abashed. "I'm glad it occurred to you."

They sat in silence for several minutes. "The kid asked if you were my friend," Joe finally said.


Joe looked away. "I told him yes."

For a long time Brent said nothing. There was time for a guard to walk past the cell, shoes clomping on the concrete, time for a man on the other side of the room to stand up, stretch his arms overhead and yawn. There was even time for the derelict near Brent's feet to roll over and begin snoring. Finally Brent said quietly, "If he'd asked me that question, I would've told him the same thing."

Chapter Forty-Four

Joe sat on the concrete floor staring at nothing in particular. At a small sound, he turned his head. Brent was passed out on the steel bench with his damp coat serving as a pillow. Joe made sure he was in no danger of falling off the narrow bench then leaned back against the wall, this time noting the details of where he was.

It was a large room, ugly and rectangular, with long metal benches lining three sides, a single steel toilet in plain view in one corner, and the fourth side open to the rest of the precinct house, except for the bars coated in gray paint chipped and peeling in layers. There was a TV encased in plexiglass hanging from the ceiling in one corner, but it was out of order. The floor Joe was sitting on was mottled with mud, spit, urine, and various unidentifiable spills and sticky patches. Across the way, a wild-haired man in filthy overalls had vomited. No one had come to clean it up yet, and Joe wrinkled his nose when a breeze blew a whiff of its reek his way.

There were at least a dozen other men in the room-- most of them drunk, most of them sleeping it off like Brent. One man had been in a fight and blood was seeping through a bandage on his cheek. Another man, young and well dressed, was sitting in a far corner, looking around with wide eyes. From time to time he jumped to his feet and paced, his hands trembling. Then he would return to huddling in the corner as if on the lookout for invisible assassins.

One of the men sleeping on the bench appeared to be just a teenager. Joe's gaze lingered on him, his expression one of understanding and concern. He was wearing only jeans and a t-shirt and appeared cold.

Another sound drew Joe's attention back to Brent, who had opened his eyes. "Go back to sleep," Joe said. "You aren't missing anything."

Brent closed his eyes again, but let out a little groan. "Does it have to be so bright in here?"

"How else are they going to make sure we don't get up to anything?"

Brent raised himself on one elbow and looked around the room in distaste. Then he sank back onto his damp coat. "Shit," he mumbled. "There's nothing anyone can get up to in here."

An officer walked past the cell without slowing down or looking in. Joe and a few of the other men followed him with their eyes, but no one said anything.

"What time is it?" Brent asked.

Joe looked around but didn't see a clock. "Early morning I think. Hard to tell. They took our watches when they processed us, remember?"

Brent rolled onto his back and pulled a sleeve of his coat over his eyes. "How could I forget? That has to have been the most humiliating experience of my life."

"It's no party," Joe agreed.

"There anything to drink around here?" Brent asked. "I could really use a glass of water."

"They ought to be bringing breakfast after awhile. You'll get some coffee, and maybe you can ask for some water, too."

Brent lay quietly on the bench, giving the impression that he had gone back to sleep. After a few minutes, though, he stirred. "How long do you think before we're out of here?"

"Hard to say." Joe rubbed the back of his neck. "If we're lucky, we'll get to see the judge before lunch. We both have clean records, so he'll probably just fine us, unless the guy who owned that place wants to press charges for using his stuff and drinking his whiskey." Joe's eyebrows twitched in concern. "We'll pay the fine or bail, whatever they set for us. Then they'll take their sweet time about processing it and we should be out by late afternoon or evening. Of course," he added, standing up and stretching, "That's if we get to see the judge this morning. If we don't see him until after lunch, we could be here half the night or even until tomorrow."

"Great," Brent muttered. "We've lost her, haven't we?"


"This is all my fault. I really fucked up."

"Don't be ridiculous," Joe said. "You didn't break that door, I did."

"Yeah, but I was the one who insisted we stick around."

"So what? It was because of me we ended up there in the first place. We could've stayed in the truck, like you said. And once we were at the house, I still didn't have to go along with anything you said."

"Well, it's my fault we put the truck in the ditch in the first place."

Joe shrugged. "I had no business listening to you when my own gut feeling was that we were too close." He toyed with the cuffs of his shirt, noticing a loose button. "We both fucked up. No use worrying about it now."

"If I were you, I'd be pissed."

"Well, you're not me. And I'm not pissed. I should be, but for some reason I'm not. I just want to get out of here and be done with it"

Footsteps approached the cell. A guard fumbled at the lock while another held up a reeking drunk, his pants recently soiled. The gate opened with a clang and the drunk stumbled into the cell, weaving about for a place to sit. The only bench space available was next to Brent, and he made his way toward it. Horrified, Brent scrambled to his feet, grabbed his coat, and moved to the other side of Joe, scanning the floor for a somewhat clean patch of concrete to sit on. Noticing Joe's sudden grin, he scowled. "No wisecracks, please, about how I don't like poor people. I'm not in the mood."

"Actually," Joe said, "I was thinking that for once I don't blame you."

Brent looked at the other people in the cell. He made a face when one of them got up and went to the toilet to urinate. "How can they do that, with everyone watching?"

"If they keep us long enough, you'll find out."

"You know, you sure are laid back about this whole situation," Brent observed. "I guess you're used to it."

"You never get used to it." Joe had been working steadily on his loose button and now it popped off. "You just get more accepting, although I sure didn't expect to land back in here again." He dropped the button in a pocket. "It was kind of a promise I made to myself that I wouldn't go looking for trouble any more."

"Well now I feel really bad about all this," Brent said. "I don't think we've done anything but look for trouble since Elise disappeared."

"Yeah, but what makes you think you have any bearing on what I do?" He looked at Brent's haggard face. "Don't kid yourself. Most of what folks do hasn't got a damn thing to do with you."

"But if it wasn't for me, maybe Elise--"

"Oh, hell. If it wasn't for you, if it wasn't for me, if it wasn't for the phases of the moon..." Joe waved his arm. "Your heart's in the right place, Conner, but you've got to cut this bullshit thinking everything is about you. You'll be happier, and people will probably like you a lot better."

Brent turned away. "That's way more words than I'm in any shape to be hearing. I can't believe you're not as hung over as I am."

"Maybe I'm just dealing with it better."

There was a distant rumble, resolving into the clatter of metal wheels on concrete. Joe sat a little straighter. "Breakfast is coming.”

Brent got to his feet. "Oh, good. I need something to settle my stomach."

"Then whatever you do, don't eat this crap.”

"It can't be worse than dorm food."

"I wouldn't know about dorm food, but I sure wouldn't bet on this not being worse."

A cumbersome cart of styrofoam trays was pulled up to the gate. "Single file!" shouted the guard, as she picked up the first tray and positioned herself on the other side of a slot in the bars. The paranoid man had been growing increasingly agitated, and pushed past Joe and Brent to be first in line. The guard shoved a tray at him, and he scurried back to his corner. Then Joe took his tray, muttering a quick thanks as Brent did the same. They found themselves a place on the floor out of the path of traffic. Joe started eating without comment, but Brent stared at the scoop of runny eggs, the burnt toast, and the cup of weak coffee in dismay.

"If you can't eat it, I will," Joe said through a mouthful of toast.

"I don't see how anybody could eat it. I wouldn't give this to a dog."

Joe shrugged, picked up his paper cup and took a sip. "At least the coffee's no worse than that machine coffee at the hospital.”

Encouraged, Brent took a cautious sip. He was about to comment when the man in the corner appeared to reach the same conclusion about the food. With a gut-wrenching yell, he flung the tray against the cinder block wall where it hit with a splat, flinging bits of egg and coffee over the three men nearest him. One started to protest, but the paranoid man shouted incoherently and began stomping and kicking the tray, cup, plastic spoon, and anything else in his path. He knocked over the teenager's tray and the boy backed away, stumbling over a derelict who moved over a bit and ducked his head in hopes of avoiding the rampage.

There was a thunder of footsteps outside the cell as guards came running. "Cut it out in there!" one of them barked.

The man continued screaming, picking up pieces of the foam tray and flinging them around.

One guard shouted down the hall and the cell door sprang open with a boom. Then the guards trooped in, grabbing the man and pinning his arms behind his back while he howled and kicked. More shouting ensued, as the guards tried to bring him under control. A tall guard who appeared to have a higher rank than the others ordered cuffs to be put on, and in less than a minute, they dragged him out of the cell and down the hall. The other guards looked around the cell for other signs of trouble, but everyone pretended to be looking at something else. Satisfied, they moved toward the door which clanged shut behind them.

After they were gone, Joe darted a glance at Brent. "Things aren't usually so entertaining in a holding cell."

Brent had been watching the scene in morbid fascination, but now he turned back to his breakfast in disgust. "I can't eat this crap."

"You sure about that?"

"Hell yeah, I'm sure. Don't tell me you want seconds."

Joe picked up Brent's tray and walked across the room to where the boy was now sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chest, staring sullenly at his overturned breakfast tray. Joe handed him Brent's tray and murmured something Brent couldn't make out. The kid looked up with a hostile expression. Joe made a few other comments, then set down the tray and walked away.

"That was nice of you," Brent said as he sat back down.

"A kid shouldn't be going without food.”

Brent glanced across the room to where the boy was shoveling eggs in his mouth as if he hadn’t eaten in days. "Were you about that age when you a regular around here?"

"Younger. Up until the last time, I always went to juvenile, though. He's what I could've turned into. I can't ever let myself forget that."

"So why didn't you end up like him?"

"Luck. I was assigned a caseworker to keep me out of trouble. Those programs are a crock of shit, by the way." He picked up the plastic spoon from his empty tray, examined it, and tossed it aside. "I lucked out, though. Me and this guy hit it off. I was ready to quit stealing, though, and that helps. Ott couldn't have done a thing for me if I was still enjoying breaking into places."

"What didn't you like about it?"

"Getting caught, mostly. But seriously, I was just tired of the lifestyle. Tired of always having to make up lies and watch my back." He sighed and stretched his hands out in front of him. "I could see where it was all headed. The older guys who'd taught me were starting to get county jail sentences and even prison, if they'd gotten into heavier shit than just petty larceny, or had killed someone by mistake during a robbery. One guy I knew ended up dead, shot by a man while climbing through his bedroom window." Joe shook his head. "I may be kind of slow at times, but I'm not stupid. Even I could see there was no future in what I was doing."

"So this guy Ott, what did he do that was so helpful?"

"He was a friend. Gave good advice. Didn't get on my case about anything, ever. That was cool, because I sure didn't get that around my mom and stepdad. They had something to say about every little god-damned thing."

"My folks were the same way."

"At least yours gave you things."

"So?" Brent shrugged. "What good are money, nice clothes and a fancy car if nothing you ever do is good enough?"

"You’re wrong that things don’t matter. But it does suck when your folks don’t care," Joe agreed. "You wouldn't believe the shit my family gave me for going into welding. But I made good money, especially when I started working off shore. Then I hit it big with my crazy sculptures and suddenly I was my stepdad’s ‘beloved son.’"

"Figures," Brent muttered.

"I don't have anything to do with them. I won't read their letters, won't take their calls, and they especially aren't in my will. Everything is going to Elise."

Brent raised his eyebrows. "Even now?"

"Of course even now."

"If we don't find her, or if she doesn't want to come back, are you going to change it?"

Joe frowned. "I can't imagine why I would change anything. I still want her to be happy, no matter where she is. And when I go, I sure won't be needing the money."

"You could set up a fund, help other kids go straight. Kids like that one over there."

Joe looked back to where the kid was now nibbling on a crust of toast, glancing around the room with dark, distrustful eyes. "He's probably too far gone by now," Joe observed. "But you've got a good point. Gives me something to think about."

They were sitting in silence, staring at nothing, when a female guard approached the gate. "Listen up!" she shouted. She started reading names off a clipboard, ordering the ones she called to make a line, single file.

Joe looked at Brent. "Court," he said. "This is good. They're calling us early."

Brent's eyes widened. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Tell the truth. Judge will read the charges, you answer guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Simple."

"What are you going to do?"

"Same as you. Tell the truth. If I'm guilty, I'll say so."

"But what--" Brent looked around as his name was called.

"Go on," Joe said.


"Conner, Brent!" the woman shouted again.

"Just go," Joe said. "You don't want to piss her off."

Brent slung his coat over his arm and went to stand in line. A few names down the list, Joe was called and did the same. After checking that all was in order, the door opened and the men filed out, following another guard down the hall toward the courtroom.

Chapter Forty-Three

Brent looked around the cabin. "See a phone anywhere?"

Joe took a few tentative steps toward the living room. "No."

"There must be one," Brent said, heading toward the back of the house. "What kind of house doesn't have a phone?"

"This one, it looks like.”

Brent reappeared from the bedroom, shaking his head in frustration. "Of all the places we could've ended up, of course we'd find ourselves in a house without a land line." He stomped back into the main room. "What kind of people live without a phone?"

"You yourself said you didn't think anyone lived here. They probably just use their cell."

Brent conceded the point. "Maybe they get better reception out here when it's not raining." He gave a resigned shrug and began taking off his clothes.

"What are you doing now?"

"I'm going to wring these out in the kitchen sink and see if I can't get them dry. I guess I'll have to use the oven," he added, "since I don't see any evidence that these barbarians have a dryer."

"I thought we weren't going to touch anything except maybe a phone, and now here you are helping yourself to the appliances."

"Am I supposed to just stand here dripping on the floor?" He stepped out of his shoes and bent over to peel off his socks. "Better hope there's a mop around. But I intend to be dry when I leave this house." Wearing only his underwear, he picked up his sopping clothes and headed for the kitchen. Joe stared after him a moment, then stripped down to his boxer shorts and followed.

Brent turned on the oven and placed three wooden chairs in a semicircle in front of it. He wrung out his clothing piece by piece and draped them over the chair backs.

"Leave one for me," Joe said, bringing his clothes over to the sink.

"They ought to dry pretty fast," Brent said, smoothing his shirt over the back of a chair. "They'll probably look like crap once they're dry, but they looked like crap wet, so at least we won't be any worse off."

"Speak for yourself." Joe unceremoniously draped his jeans over a chair and returned to the sink to wring out his flannel shirt. "My stuff is strictly wash and wear."

Brent made no comment and stood looking at his clothes drying in the heat blasting from the oven door. "Kind of cold in here.” He wandered into the living room and looked around. "At least they appear to have central heat." He leaned over the box on the wall and fiddled with the dial.

Joe shook his head. "Next thing I know, you'll be moving in."

"I told you," Brent said, flopping down on the sofa, "No one lives here day to day. Don't you think if someone lived here, he'd have the heater turned on?"

"I guess, but this is trespassing and I don’t like it." Joe sat down gingerly on the edge of a chair.

"Breaking and entering, too."

"You would mention that. It was an accident, though. As soon as the rain clears up, I'm calling a tow truck, and the first place I'm going once we're out of the ditch is a hardware store. Maybe I can fix this guy's door before he even knows it's been broken. I think I'd rather do that than just leave the money and hope nobody steals it."

"You mean the first place we're going after it clears is Ursula Docet's. You can drop me off there and come fix this door while I talk to her about Elise."

"Hopefully Elise will still be there and I can pick her up and take her with me."

"Maybe she'd prefer to stay with her friend. If you want, I can stick around and keep an eye on her so she doesn't run off again."

"You think I'm going to trust the fox in the hen house a second time? When we find her, she's not leaving my sight again."

"What if she wants to?"

"Wants to go off with you, you mean?"

"No, go off on her own."

Joe shook his head. "She doesn't really want that. I know Elise."

"Sometimes I wonder if you really do. I've been hanging around you for four days now listening to you talk about her, and not hearing much that I recognize as Elise at all. She sounds more like your fantasy of a woman than a real person." Brent stood and looked around the room. "I'm freezing. There must be some blankets or something around here. You want one?"

"I might as well, since we're helping ourselves to everything else. Why don't we check the fridge and see if there's a few beers while we're at it?"

"Hey, that's a good idea."

"I was not being serious."

"Too bad. I could use a drink about now." Brent disappeared into the back room.

Joe sat for a minute, listening to the sound of rustling from the next room. "Oh, what the fuck," he muttered. He got to his feet and wandered into the kitchen, but found the refrigerator distressingly empty. He searched the cabinets next, finding dusty skillets, a jar of questionable peanuts and a few old plastic containers. Finally, though, he came upon something that caught his interest. He reached into the dark of the cabinet and pulled out an unopened bottle of Southern Comfort and a pair of dusty glasses.

He was setting everything on the coffee table when Brent reappeared with a couple of wool army blankets. "You found something. Great!" He tossed Joe a blanket and wrapped the other around himself, then made a face. "It's going to take a lot of that stuff to make me not notice how scratchy and smelly this thing is."

"Well, I'm sure you'll warm up soon enough and won't need it any more." Joe wrapped himself in his blanket and sat down before reaching for the bottle and pouring them each a glass.

They sat in silence for several minutes, hunched over their glasses like old men. Finally Joe spoke. "I've been thinking about what you said. I wouldn't say I idealize Elise."

"Maybe you don't think so," Brent said, "But it must be pretty tough trying to live up to all those statues."

"I don't appreciate you suggesting I treat her like an object." Joe glared. "It seems like every time I get to thinking you might be all right, you go and make some kind of asshole remark."

"I'm not trying to be an asshole," Brent said, picking up his drink again. "You've been better to Elise than I could've been. But if you knew her so well, she could've never gotten away with what she did."

Joe returned to his drink. "I'd hardly say you're some kind of expert on her character. She fooled you, too."

"I know." He tossed back the remainder of his whiskey and reached for the bottle. "We screwed up. Who knows how many other ways she might've been deceiving us? I had a friend the other night hinting there might've been another guy in the picture."

Joe shook his head. "Impossible, and that's not me saying she wouldn't have. Hell, I have no idea any more what she may or may not be capable of." He took a long sip of his whiskey, wincing at the taste as he gulped it down. "I do know, though, that she wouldn't have had the time."

"Fair enough." Brent settled back on the couch cradling his drink. "I didn't really believe it, anyway. She's a good girl. She just got herself in a bad spot and needed to get away and figure out what to do about it."

"Why didn't she just take a vacation, or something?"

"Without you? You would've known something wasn't right if she went planning a vacation alone. And there's no way in hell you or I would ever have believed her if she said she was going to see family."

Joe snorted. "That's for damn sure. I'd know she'd lost her mind if she wanted to go seeing any of those people."

Brent sighed. "I think this is just her way of starting over. She made a mess of things with you and me both, and wants to start fresh."

"It's just going to backfire on her." Joe was sipping steadily at his drink now. "I don't even care any more whose kid that is. If she doesn't want it, fine. If she wants it, that's fine, too." He reached for the bottle and filled his glass almost to the brim. "I just want to come into the house after working on a sculpture and find the reality of her sleeping in my bed. I want to wake up in the morning and touch the pillow her head was on the night before. I want to have her at my side at gallery openings and at my kitchen table at night, laughing about what idiots are out there in the world and how lucky we are not to have each other, and..." Joe's voice trailed off. He noticed his full glass and sucked down two big gulps. "I just can't believe she doesn't want the same things I do."

Brent stared at the dingy brown carpet. "I think I want those things for you, Joe. You're a good man. Not that I ever doubted it, but I always felt like Elise kind of rushed into things with you. She was young, had dated a few guys who treated her badly, and suddenly you were there, adoring everything about her, so of course she felt like she shouldn't let you get away."

He tossed back the rest of his drink and went into the kitchen to check on the clothes drying in front of the oven. He felt them for dampness, then turned them over to dry the other side. Then he returned to the sofa and refilled his glass. "I guess I've been jealous of you. I've often thought that maybe if I hadn't gone out of state for grad school, it would've been me Elise would've fallen in love with." He sucked down half his whiskey so quickly tiny beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I wanted to see the indentation of her head on a pillow every morning, too? See strands of her hair on a brush, her lipstick on a coffee cup?"

Brent threw off his blanket. "I married a fine woman, but things haven't worked out, maybe because all the time it was Elise's voice I wanted to hear in the morning. It was her hand I wanted on my forehead when I was sick, and it was her life I wanted to be a part of." He sucked hungrily at his whiskey, not even stopping to wipe the rivulets that flowed over the edge of the glass and down his chin. "Damn you, Joe. It was supposed to have been me, not you!"

Joe had been staring at his glass all this time, but now he turned solemn eyes on Brent. "You aren't kidding, are you? You really do love her."

"Yes, dammit!" Brent threw his empty glass on the floor and tried to get to his feet, but the alcohol had gotten the better of his legs and he sat back down. "What did you think this was all about?"

"I don't know," Joe said quietly, sipping the last of his whiskey. He took a few deep breaths. "I think we've got one hell of a problem on our hands, though."

"No we don't. Elise solved the problem for us. Damn her, too."

"You think she really loves us both?" Joe asked quietly.

"Who the hell knows any more? Maybe she doesn't love either one of us."

"No," said Joe, shaking his head. "I don't know if I'd want to go on, knowing these four years had been a lie." He set his empty glass on the coffee table. "Funny how I could've been so happy and not even known it wouldn't last."

"We'll find her as soon as the rain lets up," Brent said. His words were slurring now and he attempted to pick his glass up off the floor. He dropped it twice and when he finally had it in his hand, it was covered in lint and unidentifiable particles which he tried to wipe off with the army blanket, replacing olive green fibers for carpet dust. "I'm not even going to wait for the goddamn tow truck," Brent mumbled, reaching for the Southern Comfort bottle. "I'll walk every step of the way." He poured himself another drink, spilling as much liquor on the table and carpet as he managed to get into his glass.

"That's good stuff," Joe admonished. "What are you wasting it for?" He grabbed the bottle and refilled his own glass. His aim was unsteady, but the liquor managed to go inside the glass without mishap.

Brent drank down a little more whiskey, his eyes glassy now. "We need to do something about those clothes. They're going to burn if we leave them like that."

"Go do something, then." Joe was deeply absorbed in getting his drink down.

Brent tried to stand, but fell back to the sofa. "You do it."

Joe set down his glass and managed to weave his way to the kitchen without running into anything. He reached across the clothes and chairs to turn off the oven, nearly tipping the chair with Brent's shirt into the open oven door. "This is some system you rigged up." Sloppily, he gathered up the clothes and stumbled back to the sofa, throwing everything in a heap between them. "Get dressed."

Brent didn't answer at first. He was leaning against the back of the couch, his head tipped back and his mouth open, snoring. When Joe shook his shoulder, he opened his eyes. "What do you want?"

"Put your clothes on," Joe said. He tried to pull on his jeans as an example, but forgot to put his socks on first, became confused and decided to start with his shirt instead.

Brent attempted to get into his own clothes, but the rain and oven heat had damaged the wool slacks and cashmere sweater, making them tight and puckered. "This isn't going to work," he said, trying to pull the damp sweater over his wrinkled shirt.

Joe managed a lopsided grin. "You look funny."

Brent reached for his drink without embarrassment, having to make every movement with his whole body now because the tight sweater was constricting him. He sucked down his whiskey, threw himself against the couch and sighed. "I don't give a damn anymore."

"You're drunk," Joe said, having figured out how his socks went on. "I can't think what else would make you not care what you look like."

"Maybe some things just don't matter any more."

"Maybe some things never did." Joe had buttoned his jeans and flopped down on the couch beside him. Noticing that there was a tiny bit of liquor left in the bottle, he grabbed it and finished it off.

"Nice of you to share," Brent observed through eyes drooping with alcohol and fatigue.

"You spilled your share on the floor. Remember?"

"Oh, yeah." He waved a hand. "Doesn't matter."

"That's what you were just saying."

"It's true," Brent mumbled. "Nothing matters."

"You sure about that?" Joe asked, grabbing a sofa cushion and fumbling with it. He tried to get comfortable and closed his eyes. "I thought it all mattered to you."

"No," Brent said, barely able to get the words out. "Nothing matters to me at all any more."

Chapter Forty-Two

"I'll call a tow truck." Brent pulled out his phone and scowled at it. "Damn rural hicks. What kind of place is this that I can't get a signal? This isn't the wilderness."

"Could be the rain."

"I guess we'll have to wait it out. Either that or walk to the nearest place where we can use a phone."

"We passed a place not far back," Joe said sullenly. "Maybe we can go over there and get them to call us a tow truck."

"I was hoping you'd want to wait until the rain stopped."

"Why?" Joe said. "We're already wet. Waiting here won't do us any good. Besides, knowing our luck, if we wait here, that'll be enough time for Elise to get away again."

"Yeah, but the rain won't go on like this all night. Let's give it half an hour and see what happens."

"Wait here, if you want to," Joe said. "But I'm tired of always waiting, always losing her. I'm going to go see if I can get to a phone. Or hell, maybe I'll just walk to Ursula's place." He made to climb over Brent again, but Brent turned up his collar, threw open the door and got out first, closing his eyes against the pulsating beat of the rain. Joe jumped down behind him and slammed the door. "This way," he said. Wrapping his jacket around himself, he started up the road.

Brent caught up and strode silently beside him. After several minutes, Joe pointed to a spot across a field, dimly visible through the rain. "Maybe they'll let us use their phone."

"Where's the road to get to it?"

"We can cut across that pasture."

"It's going to be muddy."

"Did you see any other places? How far is it to where Ursula Docet lives?"

"Pretty far," Brent admitted. "It's at least another two miles after turning down that street we passed."

"And that street was half a mile back, if it's even the right one." Joe crossed the street, leaped the ditch, and inspected the barbed wire fence. Calmly, he pulled one wire up, and the other down, bent over and slipped through. His jacket caught on the tendrils of a dead vine but he reached behind and pulled it free.

Brent had been standing on the edge of the ditch, gauging the distance and the slipperiness of his shoes. With Joe watching, he got a running start and cleared the ditch easily. His coat became tangled on the barbed wire fence though, and Joe was compelled to come back and hold the top wire. Once on the other side, Brent straightened his coat, useless against the cold in its sodden state, and the two men set off in the direction of the small frame house Joe had seen from the road.

They tramped along in silence, dripping hair plastered to their skulls, shoes squelching in the mud. After what seemed like miles they arrived at the house, which turned out to be just a drab little shack. Joe pounded on the door. Nothing. Brent tried to peer in a window but could see no light or movement from within. "Give it up," he said as Joe began banging on the door again. "There's no one home."

Joe slammed his fist into the door, then grabbed the knob and rattled it, to no avail. He looked around wildly, all composure gone. "Don't tell me I'm stuck out here, soaking wet, freezing my ass off in the goddamn rain because of you!"

"Hey, I didn't say we should come here," Brent said. "I wanted to stay in the truck until the rain let up, but you--"

"Shut up, damn you! Just shut the fuck up!" Joe stomped around in the mud, splashing muck up to his knees, then took another swipe at the door, bruising his knuckles this time. "If you'd have looked at the map or wiped off the goddamn window like I told you to, or better yet if you'd have just left my wife alone--" Joe stepped back and took a powerful kick at the door, throwing his weight into it with a fury that splintered the wooden frame around the lock. There was a loud popping sound as the door gave way. Joe stumbled, made a grab for the doorknob, leaned into it for support and stumbled again as the door swung inward. He stopped uncertainly in the doorway.

"Now you've done it," Brent said.

"It was an accident." His anger suddenly spent, Joe gazed in shock at the place where the frame had splintered. "Damn cheap wood."


"It is! What the hell kind of idiot uses yellow pine on their front door?"

"Look, will you just let me in?"

Joe gave Brent a sanity-questioning stare. "What do you mean, let you in? We're closing this door and getting the hell out of Dodge, before whoever lives here comes home."

"Oh, come on. Let's at least wait it out, now that we're in. We can use their phone. We'll leave as soon as it lets up."

"Man, now I know you're nuts."

Brent pushed past him and stood dripping in the shelter of abbreviated entryway. "I'm not crazy," he said. "Just cold and wet. Now will you please shut the door?"

"Look, I know we've done a lot of shady things since we got into this whole mess, but this is going too far. Get back on this side of the door. I'll close it as well as I can, we'll go back to the truck and hope for the best."

Brent shrugged out of his coat, dropping it to the floor with a splat. "You'll be standing there waiting on me for a long time because I'm staying here until it lets up." He glanced around the quiet, dusty room. "It doesn't look like anyone really lives here, anyway. It's probably someone's second home, for when they want to get away for a little bit. I bet no one's been here in months."

"That doesn't make it right."

"What's the problem? You didn't hesitate to break into Perry's place."

"He was a crook. If he'd caught us, the worst that would've happened is we would've had to fight him. Whoever lives here is probably an honest man who'll call the cops as soon as he'd look at us."

"I'm sure if the owner was here he'd let us in, with this rain. And besides," Brent ran his fingers through his dripping hair, "to be quite honest, I really don't care anymore. Let them come and arrest me if that's what they want to do, but I'm not going back out there until I'm warm and dry and the rain has stopped."

Joe considered. "I guess if we don't mess anything up, it can't hurt to hang out here until it clears. When we leave, we'll put some money on the kitchen counter to pay for the door."