The power of beauty is as absurd as it is undeniable. I stared at his body on the stretcher. Even in death it was obvious why every girl Peter ever smiled at since the age of fourteen smiled back. He looked like one of those Renaissance sculptures. His hair and eyes were jet black. He had our mother's chain of Saint Nicholas around his neck, and in his left earlobe was a small gold hoop he'd worn since he was eleven.
I was so intent on finding some enduring trace of Peter in his face that it took a while to see how battered his body was. When Hank saw it finally register, he silently guided me through the damage. Large bruises on Peter's chest, ribs, arms, and legs; discoloration on his forehead and the back of his neck. Hank showed me the twisted broken fingers and how the knuckles on both hands were scraped raw.
By the time Hank was done, I felt sick to my stomach and so dizzy that I had to grab the rail of the gurney to keep from falling.
WHEN I FINALLY STEPPED BACK out onto the beach, I felt as if I had spent the night in that ambulance. The train ride from the city seemed like a memory from a previous life.
Dana sat alone on the sand, looking weirdly out of place on her own property. I bent over and she put her arms around me. "I really want to stay with you tonight," she said. "Please let me, Jack."
I was glad she did. I held on to her hand as we followed my father and grandfather back toward Belnap's cruiser.
As we were about to get in, Frank Volpi, East Hampton's longtime chief detective, walked toward us from the direction of the house.
"Sam, Macklin, Jack. I'm sorry."
"Then why aren't you trying to find out who killed him?" asked Mack, staring at him cold and hard. "At the moment, there's nothing to indicate this was anything but a horrible accident, Mack."
"Have you seen his body, Frank?" I asked softly. "A bad storm just went through here, Jack." "You think Peter decided to go for a swim in the middle of work?" I asked. "In this kind of surf? C'mon, Detective." "Peter was kind of a crazy. So, yes, I think it's possible." With the sanctimonious tone of a social worker, he added, "At the same time, I don't think we can rule out suicide."
"Peter wouldn't kill himself," said Mack, taking that possibility off the table forever. "You're an asshole to suggest it." "Belnap clocked him weaving through traffic at ninety miles per hour just before the party. That sounds like someone with a death wish to me."
"That's interesting, Frank," said Mack, "because to me it just sounds like more of your bullshit." Macklin looked dangerously close to hitting him.
"Are you interviewing anyone?" I asked, trying to intercede. "See if there were any witnesses? There must be a guest list. C'mon, Frank, this is Peter who died here." "You know the people on that list, Jack. You can't interview their gardeners without a court order."
"Then get one," said Mack, "and how about Barry and Campion? Do they have anything to say?" "They're extremely upset, of course, and extend their condolences. But they left town on business this morning. I can't see what would be accomplished by changing their itinerary."
"No, I suppose you can't. By the way, Frank, are you still a detective, or have you graduated to full-time messenger boy?"
Volpi's face and neck flushed red. "What's that supposed to mean, Mack?"
"What part of the question can't you understand?" said my grandfather.
A YEAR AFTER MY PARENTS ARRIVED in Montauk, my father built the small three-bedroom house halfway between town and the lighthouse. We moved in when I was two, and Peter was born there five years later. Although he'd spent at least half his nights over the past few years at one girlfriend or another's place, he never officially moved out.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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