Some days the temptation to kill himself was almost overwhelming. He couldn’t say where the urge came from. But there were nights he’d imagine himself sitting on the window ledge of a tall building, back to the street, window wide open, and a pistol in his hand. In one motion he would place the barrel in his mouth, pull the trigger and tumble backwards to oblivion. If lucky, the bullet’s impact would put an end to the pain. Bad luck would leave the finishing touch to the pavement, floors below. He believed enough in divine spite to have planned how best to avoid the cruelty of botching a suicide.
Was Reardon serious? He seemed so those nights he lay silently in bed, pretending to be asleep so that he would not be forced to try to name and sort his feelings. Mornings after such silent nights were better. Having kept his vigil, he need not try to explain the despair. No need to reassure Millie and explain about how much it hurt some days to look at the world and lack the conviction he had actually seen it.
It didn’t help matters that his daughter was home just now from college. He loved her, of that he was more or less sure. But she was becoming foreign, and she was changing more rapidly than he could fathom. And the changes he could understand, he did not like.
"Well, the point is, Dad, that there is no there, there."
All earnest now. A graduate student at New York University strutting her stuff. Fresh from a course on post-modern literary criticism.
"You see, the text itself does not exist. We create the text." Maura’s tone was condescending. She had been released from Greenwich Village for a quick trip to the hinterland, a missionary to the great unwashed.
Reardon felt trapped. She needed something from him, some acknowledgment that she was doing new and great things.
"That sounds about right," he said.
"What sounds about right?" A challenge. The image shouting at the mirror and challenging its reflection.
"That how we interpret things differs."
"That’s not the point at all, Dad." She threw one leg over the back of a high, high horse, and was preparing to gallop.
"Oh? Well, I am afraid I just don’t get it then, Maura."
"I hate it when you are so condescending and arrogant," she puffed.
"Yeah, like when you pretend not to get it and then launch into some, some didactic and improving tone."
Reardon was lost now. A didactic tone?
"You simply don’t take my work seriously," Maura said. She was astride her mount now. She was ready to take on the world, and had forgotten, in this flush of anger, that there was no there, there.
"That’s not really fair, Maura."
"Here we go again. Always the lawyer. What now, a lecture on justice?" He could still see in her the little girl who had snuggled on his lap and lapped at her cocoa while he read her stories about ghosts, goblins and witches. Why must she work so hard to kill that child?
"I’m sorry, Maura."
"Sorry implies fault, dad, and some ontic structure. I am beyond all that."
Silence now from Reardon.
"I’ve got to go, dad."
Reardon rose. Did he dare a hug, or at least a kiss on the forehead?
"I’ll call you and mom when I get back."
And with that, Maura galloped off to Greenwich Village.
That was several hours ago, and Reardon was sitting in a brocade, over-stuffed chair. On his lap, the newspaper and a volume of literary criticism he’d bought from the bookstore. He wanted to try to understand Maura. He was dosing now, trying to find his connection to the places and events described in the newspaper. Millie was out showing a waterfront property to a young doctor. She was excited by the prospect of the sale, and had worked hard to cultivate the trust of the potential buyer.
Marcus Antoine’s case would be his first high-profile criminal trial as a judge. He had not yet laid eyes on Antoine, but he could see his face. Wide nostrils, shiny black skin, tight corn rows clinging snake-like to his head. Antoine was angry. Antoine was scared. He saw the man child weep. And he saw him kill. He saw a powerful limb slashing, again and again, at the corpse of a boy, wild arcs of blood spurting into the night.
This vision of Marcus the killer startled him. The trial had not begun. Reardon had not yet taken possession of the court file in the case. Already he had visions of the man’s guilt? Without evidence, already a story forming in his mind?
The papers, of course, and the television news, they were responsible. They had convicted Antoine already. One paper called the young man another Mike Tyson. Reardon had reviewed a few news stories that afternoon. Motions were already being filed by some of the networks for permission to televise the trial. Court TV’s motion had an appendix containing news stories designed to show how important the case was, and why televising the trial was in the interest of justice.
Marcus had stabbed and slashed the son of a Supreme Court justice to death. The world needed to see that we are governed by law. Evil can strike even at the bosom of the high and the mighty, and it must be returned with the calm and measured cadence of law. Or so the lawyers for Court TV wrote. Why didn’t these lawyers ever seek to televise a bankruptcy hearing? Aren’t the high and the mighty laid low with the calm precision of law in those courtrooms? No blood on display there; no atavistic passion. No ratings, therefore no public interest.
Reardon intended to deny the motions. In fact, he had already done so, with a terse, one-line ruling he’d declared: "Motion denied. No compelling public interest will be served by departing from this state’s long-standing reluctance to televise trials."
The rulings would be handed to the media’s lawyers in the morning. He would do so, that is, unless he found a window ledge on which to sit. There was a stiffness in his head, two shoots of despair reaching up along each side of his head and clamping on familiar blinders. No matter where he looked, he saw futility. Why not put an end to it now? Why tolerate the suspense? Chance’s plaything waiting daily, for what? The jab of a cancerous growth alerting him to the arrival of an excruciating form of decay? Or perhaps the errant thump of an arrhythmia serving as a prelude to the vise that would shut down his chest? Or maybe the head-on collision with the drunken driver, pointed his way by chance?
Nothing satisfied, at least not for long.
He’d graduated high school, then college, then law school. A triumphant trifecta that exceeded his expectations. He’d passed through these challenges almost as though sleep walking. Always memorizing his lines. And then his own law practice. More lines to memorize, the task easier now because he was required to inquire no further than the imperatives of each case. Now a judge. A steady arc of success, all right. A beautiful wife, an enviable home, a daughter foundering through the travails of privilege. He had it all didn’t he?
Always the actor. Always the ability to say the right thing at the right time. Always memorizing his lines. A faithful student of some hidden imperative that was now aching to be set free.
He would put the barrel of the pistol in his mouth. He could feel the cold steel, and smell the acrid oil. The trigger guard belly up, like a whale at the beach. Trip the safety, and then, what? It took but little to trip the trigger. He imagined his mouth filling with gases, and then a hammer releasing the pressure in his mind. Tumbling backward now, he glances off a decorative awning, and falls hard with a welcoming thud.
He put the tumbler of scotch down next to him, and let the book on his lap fall to the floor as he stood up. He was cold now. Starting a fire was too much of a bother. The blinders of his despair narrowed his vision, and he saw only the couch. He lay on his back, with hands crossed, taking grim satisfaction in the image of himself snug in a coffin. There was a roaring in his head, rhythmic and velvet-like. No sorrow now. No anger. No fear. He was becoming numb. And sleepy, so very sleepy.
He never heard the rusty hinge of his mail box opening and then closing. He never saw the man with pock-marked face, and slicked back blonde hair. He never saw the shine of the black leather jacket as it slithered off into the shadows.
Jonathan Reardon had played out another death, reciting the lines just so. While he slept, a package had been delivered. A small package. It was a gift of sorts. It was a gift Peter Petrine had waited a long time to deliver.