“So, what’s it like going under cover as a dead guy?”
It’s our first big family get-together since I came back, and this is the lie we’ve chosen to explain my disappearance and death. That I discovered the dumping that Biff was doing at the job site, went to the police, and that led to the FBI asking me to go undercover to gather enough evidence to charge him and the lab company. Completely unrealistic of course, yet less so than the truth.
“Dark,” I say, “lonely.”
My brother-in-law Eric laughs, because he thinks I’m making a joke. I give him a tight smile, trying to roll with it.
“No, but really, what’s it like?”
I wrack my brain trying to come up with whatever glamorous descriptor he seems to be looking for. “I can’t really talk much about the details. But it was dangerous.” For me, for Maisie, for our baby. Maybe even for the rest of the world.
That seems to do the trick. He shakes his head in awe. “Man, that’s so cool.”
“Honey, could you help me with this?”
I look over at Maisie as she wobbles a platter of raw hamburger patties like they’re too much for her. But there’s a certain look in her eyes. She’s rescuing me, and she knows it.
I turn and grab the platter and mouth thank you. She smiles and purses her lips and I oblige her with a quick kiss before turning back to the hot grill and transferring the patties to it.
“Eric, are you trying to get classified secrets out of my husband again?”
“Nah, I’m not. It’s just the craziest thing, you know? Like something you’d see in the movies.”
Maisie and I share a look, because the reality was so much crazier than anyone could ever guess.
Right then Eric gets called away by my sister, and Maisie strolls up beside me as I move some dripping patties off the fire.
We put an arm around each other almost automatically.
“How are you doing?” she asks.
I know she doesn’t mean with the hamburgers, because I’m a grill master, and always have been. I shrug. “It’s weird.”
“I know.” She gives my back a little pat as her other hand goes to her gently rounded belly. She’s barely showing yet, but she does that a lot when she’s thinking.
I lean a little closer to her. “And you? How are you two doing?”
“We’re just fine.” Her smile is brighter than the sunshine. Then she motions toward the grill. “We’re hungry.”
I’m hungry too. And I’m trying not to stare at the pink, glistening patties. Trying not to remember how good meat tastes when really, really, really fresh.
I pull her tighter to my side. “They’ll be done soon.” And they will be, they’re cooking fast. I casually move one patty to the cooler corner of the grill. I want mine rare.
Maisie gives me a look, but before she can ask, we hear a shout from across the yard.
“It’s coming on!” Eric says. “Everybody! Come watch!”
I turn the heat down on the grill so the patties don’t burn and grab Maisie’s hand as we walk across the grass to watch the big tv set up on the deck.
A newscaster is talking over Biff’s picture on the screen and for a second I flash back to that dark, cold night and the look on his face as he—
Someone places a cold beer in my other hand, and it’s enough to bring me back to the present. With a big inhale, I try to just listen instead of reliving it. Maisie squeezes my hand and I hang on for dear life.
They cut to a video clip of Biff being arrested. He’s red, sweaty, ranting. “I was framed! I had nothing to do with it!” He lunges toward the camera before officers yank him back. “Grady [last name] is a zombie! He was dead! I killed him! I have proof! He bit me!” He turns his head to show his mangled ear as the officers yank him back.
“Man, what a wacko,” Eric says to murmurs of agreement from the rest of our families.
The picture changes to the construction site with crime scene tape around it. They’re talking about the blood the investigators found in the soil along-side the toxic waste from the lab, and they think Biff’s also guilty of some foul-play.
They’re right, of course. And not just for Travis’s supposed suicide.
Maisie’s hand clenches mine and I know she’s reacting to seeing the place where I died, too.
But then there’s a new face on the screen, lit up with bright, flashing lights. A face I barely recall, barely even saw in the first place. He’s wearing sunglasses just like he was that night, his two big bruisers on either side, also in sunglasses, pushing through a crowd of reporters. But he’s the one in charge, so I study him. The sharpness of his cheekbones, the way his jaw juts out, the entitlement in his movements. If I ever saw him again, I would recognize him.
“That’s such bullshit.”
I’ve been so focused on learning his face that I forgot to listen. “What is?” I ask Maisie, still staring at the screen.
“That they can buy their way out of it.” Her voice vibrates with anger. “They’re going to get away with it.”
I grit my teeth as I hear that they’re going to pay a huge fine, but plead ‘not guilty’ to the charges and were released without bail.
I would have to hope the investigation turned something up further, because Maisie was right, it was bullshit. They were just as guilty as Biff, more so even. Biff had stood there and let it happen, but the suit had ordered it, and the big guys had used their hands to do it. There would be no justice until they paid for their crimes. All of them.
But then they show Biff one more time, his mugshot, and I am filled with vindication. He looks exactly like a criminally insane person, and he is going to spend a long, long time behind bars. I try to put the bitterness I feel away and let that be enough, but it burns inside me.
Then my family and friends enfold me as the segment ends, telling me how glad they are that I’m okay, that I’m here. My father hugs me wordlessly, silently, as my mother wipes away tears. They’d had a hard time with everything, and losing me had aged them irrevocably.
Over their shoulders I see Maisie, hands clasped over her stomach, tears of gratitude and love in her eyes. And next to her, Ms. Josephine. I tip my head to her, eyes burning, because thanks to her, I have my family. I have my whole life back, and even if the others never come to justice, that’s enough.
In fact…it’s everything.
“Are you sure you have to go?” Maisie’s eyes are damp as she nestles under Grady’s arm for comfort.
“Yes, I’m sure.” I straighten my head wrap and stand up straighter. “There is work for me to do.”
They both nod solemnly, understanding, superficially at least, what I mean.
“Please drop us a note when you get there.” Maisie reaches out her hands and I hold them in my own. “And thank you,” she says. “Thank you so much, for everything.” And then she folds me up in her arms for a hard hug.
“I am but a servant to the loa, under the direction of Bondye. But…” My arms tighten, too. “You are very welcome.”
I’m pleased with the way things turned out with Mr. Grady. It delights me to see evil lose, and goodness win. It happens much too rarely in the world these days.
I cannot help but feel a flush of satisfaction and elation that God heard my prayers. It is heady stuff, to have the ear of the Good Father.
But then again, he has his ways of making sure I stay humble.
My large suitcase is already in the trunk of the taxi, and I can no longer delay.
“God bless you.” I smile as I kiss both cheeks of Maisie and then Mr. Grady, and then I wave as I get into the taxi.
I watch through the back window as we pull away, waving as they wave to me. My old heart has stretched like elastic to include them, and it aches a bit to leave them behind. But they allowed me to place some charms in their home for protection, and I have prayed and made offerings to the loa to watch over and intercede for them. I might have delayed longer if I hadn’t had the revelation that they would be safe.
I turn around when they are out of view, and sigh. I’m already missing my house. I haven’t been in it very long since I was pretending to be homeless. And now I must leave it again already.
Then I shrug, because a house is just a shell. My heart lives elsewhere. And, the work always comes first. Though I don’t know when, I will be back someday.
For now, there is more to do. The spirits are calling me west. How far west, I do not know. The pull, though persistent, is weak enough for me to know it could be many, many miles.
I will know when I get there. But I am ready and hopeful for a few more creature comforts this time around. These bones are getting too old to sleep outside again.
But as always, I will do what is asked of me, and hope for the best. You give good, you get good, and that I truly believe.