"I'd heard I was given a referral."
"A referral," he echoed. "Can I ask the source?"
She pushed her hair back over her left ear and sat forward in the chair, meeting his eyes for the first time, as if she'd summoned some confidence. "My boyfriend. Your brother was his football coach. We heard from him that you were a detective."
Adam said, "My brother?" in an empty voice.
"Yes. Coach Austin."
"Kent," he said. "We're not on his squad, April. We can call him Kent."
She didn't seem to like that idea, but she nodded.
"My brother gave you a referral," he said, and found himself amused somehow, despite the aching ribs and bruised hand and the sandpaper eyelids that a full week of uneven hours and too much drinking provided. Until she walked in, he'd been two minutes from locking the office and going in pursuit of black coffee. The tallest cup and strongest blend they had. A savage headache had been building, and he needed something beyond Advil to take its knees out.
"That's right." She seemed unsatisfied with his response, as if she'd expected the mention of his brother would establish a personal connection. "I'm in school at Baldwin-Wallace College. A senior."
"Terrific," Adam said.
"It's a good school."
"I've always understood that to be true." He was trying to keep his attention on her, but right now all she represented was a delay between him and coffee. "What's in the folder?"
She looked down protectively, as if he'd violated the folder's privacy. "Some letters."
He waited. Could this take any longer? He was used to fighting his way through personal stories he didn't care to hear about, used to deflecting tales of woe, but he did not have the patience to tug one out just so he could begin deflecting it.
"What precisely do you need, April?"
"I'd like to get in touch with my father."
"You don't know him?" Adam said, thinking that this wasn't the sort of problem he could handle even if it interested him. How in the hell did you go about finding someone who'd abandoned his child decades ago? It wasn't like chasing down a guy who'd skipped out on bail, leaving behind a fresh trail of friends, relatives, and property.
"I've met him," she said. "But he was well, by the time I was old enough to really get to know him, he was already in prison."
Adam understood now why she'd gone to the trouble of telling him that she was in a good school. She didn't want him to form his understanding of her from this one element, the knowledge that her father was in prison.
"I see. Well, we can figure out where he's doing his time easily enough."
"He's done. He's out."
Damn. That would slow things down.
"What I've got," the too-tan-for-October girl said, "is some letters. We started writing while he was still in prison. That was, actually, your brother's idea."
"No kidding," Adam said, doing his damnedest to hide his disgust. Just what this girl needed, a relationship with some asshole in a cell. But Kent, he'd have found that a fine plan. Adam's brother had gotten a lot of ink for his prison visits over the years. DRIVEN BY THE PAST, one headline had read. Adam found that a patently obvious observation. Everyone was driven by the past, all the time. Did Kent's past play a role in his prison visits? Of course. Did that shared past play a role in Adam's own prison visits? Better believe it. They were just different sorts of visits.
"Yes. And it was a wonderful idea. I mean, I learned to forgive him, you know? And then to understand that he wasn't this monster, that he was someone who made a mistake and"
"He stopped writing when he got out?"
She stuttered to a stop. "No. Well, he did for a while. But it's an adjustment."
"It certainly is," Adam said, thinking That's why most of them go right back. She was so damn young. This was what college seniors looked like? Shit, he was getting old. These girls seemed to be moving backward, sliding away from him just as fast as he aged away from them, until their youth was an impossible thing to comprehend.
Excerpted from The Prophet by Michael Koryta. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Koryta. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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