The rain kept falling, swelling the creek until it lifted the girl
into its muddy flood. She swept down through the town, unseen by anyone
as she passed the grassy mounds where three hundred years ago Indians
worshipped the sun. She bobbed in the current beneath the Highway 61
bridge, naked and unbloodied, not yet gray, limp as a sleeping child.
She rolled with the creek, which wound through the woods toward the
paper mill and crashed into the Mississippi River in a maelstrom of
brown waves. The girl made this journey alone and unknowing, but soon
she would whip the town into another kind of maelstrom, one that would
make the river seem placid by comparison.
She never meant to cause trouble. She was a quiet girl, brilliant and full of life. When she laughed, others laughed with her. When she cried, she hid her tears. She was blessed with many gifts and took none for granted. At seventeen, she had already brought honor to the town. No one would have predicted this end.
But then no one really knew her.
Any writer worth his salt knows this. Sometimes you wait for
events to percolate in your subconscious until a deeper truth
emerges; other times you're simply waiting for the principals to
die. Sometimes it's both.
This story is like that.
A man walks the straight and narrow all his life; he follows the rules, stays within the lines; then one day he makes a misstep. He crosses a line and sets in motion a chain of events that will take from him everything he has and damn him forever in the eyes of those he loves.
We all sense that invisible line of demarcation, like an unspoken challenge hanging in the air. And there is some wild thing in our natures that makes us want to cross it, that compels us with the silent insistence of evolutionary imperative to risk all for a glinting shadow. Most of us suppress that urge. Fear stops us more often than wisdom, as in most things. But some of us take that step. And in the taking, we start down a path from which it is difficult and sometimes impossible to return.
Dr. Andrew Elliott is such a man.
I have known Drew since he was three years old, long before he was a Rhodes scholar, before he went to medical school, before he returned to our hometown of twenty thousand souls to practice internal medicine. And our bond runs deeper than that of most childhood friends. When I was fourteen, eleven-year-old Drew Elliott saved my life and almost lost his own in the process. We remained close friends until he graduated from medical school, and then for a long time -- fifteen years, I guess -- I saw him hardly at all. Much of that time I spent convicting murderers as an assistant district attorney in Houston, Texas. The rest I spent writing novels based on extraordinary cases from my career, which gave me a second life and time to spend with my family.
Drew and I renewed our friendship five years ago, after my wife died and I returned to Natchez with my young daughter to try to piece my life back together. The early weeks of my return were swallowed by a whirlwind of a murder case, but as the notoriety faded, Drew was the first old friend to seek me out and make an effort to bring me into the community. He put me on the school board of our alma mater, got me into the country club, talked me into sponsoring a hot air balloon and a Metropolitan opera singer during Natchez's annual festivals. He worked hard at bringing this widower back to life, and with much help from Caitlin Masters, my lover for the past few years, he succeeded.
Copyright © 2005 by Greg Iles.
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