Read The Last Secret Online

Authors: Mary Mcgarry Morris

The Last Secret

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Also by Mary McGarry Morris

Vanished

A Dangerous Woman

Songs in Ordinary Time

Fiona Range

A Hole in the Universe

The Lost Mother

To John C. McGarry—

my father
,

looking seaward

out at me

hey still don't
believe her, and why should they, but it's always the same, it is—this same dream, darkness, heat, and the song, the same song, same deafening beat.

Driving. Midnight. Still driving; their beacon through the desert, flashing lights, pink and green neon from the roadhouse roof Eddie cruises the parking lot. He parks on the farthest side, in shadows. Tired and hungry, she slips after him into the reek of beery dust. It coats the bar top, the windows, the dimly lit jukebox blasting that song “Gimme Some Lovin'” over and over and over again. Their luck's about to change, Eddie says. He feeds quarters into the jukebox, the last of their money—hers, mostly.

Sitting behind them, the only other customer, a skinny man, grimy shirt, loosened tie, jacket bunched up next to his beer mug. His head bobs over the table. Her own face floats in the murky bar mirror, outlined in blinking red Christmas bulbs. This inferno of caged heat pulsates between the sagging ceiling and gritty plank floor. A dream, nothing's real. The blur of overhead fan blades dizzies her.

Elbows sticking to the bar, she sips a rum and Coke; only seventeen, but as long as she keeps sliding the drink back in front of Eddie, the skinny bartender could care. He ignores her, acts like she's not even here. She grabs another cherry, and Eddie winks in the mirror. Their last meal, hamburgers—this morning; “poor man's brunch,” Eddie said. Every time the bartender looks away, she grabs more, cherries, olives, slimy little cocktail onions, shoves them into her mouth, swiveling on the stool to hide her ravenous chewing. They have devoured the bowl of pretzels. After warm beer in the car all day, it's rum Eddie wants. The more he drinks the sharper he grows, pale eyes glinting, voice roughening, snagging on her soft parts, moving deep inside, his hard running feet, tingling through her legs and thighs,
belly and heart, pounding with the music. She covers her grin. Drinking makes her tired and silly, the least little thing, she's laughing so hard she can't stop. Or crying. Today, mostly crying.

Another quarter, that song again.

Eddie pauses by the table. The man's head jerks up. Laughing, Eddie leans close, back muscles rippling through his damp T-shirt. Blond, tanned, blue eyes, dimples, oh God. Her eyes burn. Eddie's gesturing. The man glances back, and she looks away. Now Eddie's hand is soft on her thigh, one finger stroking flesh high, high between her legs. Her eyes close as his mouth brushes her ear, singing that song, heat in her ear.

She's known him forever, it seems through the haze of longing. But only a summer month before she was a chambermaid at the Clayborne Hotel in Lake George that drizzly day when he drove up in the yellow Mustang, top down, his arm over the back of the seat. “Hey, pretty girl,” he called as she dragged along the gravel path in her baggy green uniform, arms loaded with buckets, scrub brushes, and mop. “I've come to rescue you.”

It was her last summer of high school. Six years older, he knew so much about life. After Yale, he'd invested the ten-thousand-dollar graduation gift from his wealthy grandfather in an international grain brokerage company. In just three months' time he made a quarter of a million dollars. Then came the sharks who, with a taste of his blood, wanted more. “Bad deals and blind faith,” he'd sigh. “A deadly combination.” There was a great job in LA., a friend of his grandfather's. He just had to get there.

Tall with boyish hips, still almost flat-chested, but she drove him crazy, Eddie said. “You're the first one,” he whispered in his bleak room, rented by the night. Too busy studying, he'd never had a social life. He liked to turn all the lights on while undressing her.

Eyes closed, her arm over her face, trembling, craving the stasis of sleep while he stroked her feet, traced each bone in her rib cage, murmuring, “There, pretty girl, there, there.”

Eleven when her father died. Her mother, by necessity, stern, a schoolteacher who, after having raised her older daughter Carol to a
college-educated, newly wed nurse, was bewildered by this younger child's moody volatility.

One day after work Eddie came by to say he was going. L.A. They couldn't hold the job much longer. Did she want to come? Yes or no. Time was running out. He had another one of his terrible headaches.

She called from the road, cringing as her mother demanded to speak with this Eddie she'd never even heard of, much less met. Smiling, he took the phone and apologized for their abrupt departure, but she could rest assured her daughter was in safe hands.

“I love her, Mrs. Trimble. And I'm going to take care of her. Always. I promise. All we want is your blessing.”

“My blessing!” her mother shrieked across the line. “My blessing! All you'll get from me is a warrant for your arrest!”

Watching a baseball game at the end of the bar, the bartender hunches close to the snowy black-and-white TV screen. Another quarter. That song again. Eddie's song. Red lights flash on his face. Her stomach lurches, oniony bile searing her throat. Her sweaty thighs stick to the brittle plastic. Eddie's arm falls, heavy on her shoulders. His tongue drags over her ear. She can't believe what he wants.

Turning from the table, the man watches with a wet, imploring grin.

“Like a joke. You'll see. C'mere. Feel. Feel, can you feel that?” Eddie asks, pressing against her leg. “You know where that belongs. You know. You know …” His moan burns her ear. “Just a little, that's all, to get us outta here.”

“No … no,” she whispers, curling her neck away from his face. It takes all her effort.

“Look at him.” With Eddie's contemptuous gesture, the leering man waves. “Flashing that roll, just begging for it, and us hungry. Come on. LA., that's all.”

“No.”

“Just get him outside, that's all I ask.”

“No. No, Eddie!”

They'll be doing the drunk a favor, Eddie says, smiling. The man tries to wink back, instead both eyes close. “His money's gonna be a whole lot better spent feeding us than on that.”

“I can't. I can't. I can't. I can't.” She is crying again.

Eddie shades his eyes. “Jesus Christ! Will you cut that out!” Clenched jaw. Squinting. It's the flashing lights. His headaches scare her.

“I can't help it.” She blows her nose in a stiff cocktail napkin. “I'm sorry!”

“Just get him outside.”

She shakes her head.

“In my car. Front seat.”

“No!”

He squeezes her wrist against his chest. “Tell you what then, I'm walking out that door, and you either come out with the asshole and we're on our way in two minutes, or stay here.” He leans close. “For all the fuck I care!” He storms out.

“Eddie!”

The closing door, her flesh ripping from the stool, the grinning man, clutching his suit jacket, staggering her way. “You pretty … pretty …,” he stammers, reaching for her. “You pretty thing, you …”

“No. Don't.” Ashamed, she doesn't want the bartender to hear. She gets the door open. “I'm leaving. I have to go. You stay here. Don't come out.” She can't pull free. His fingers dig into her arm. “He's out here! Don't.” She pushes him. In the parking lot their scuffling feet scrape a dead echo through the desert stillness. She shoves him away. “Go back in! Please!”

“No!” His voice thickens with anger. “I can't wait! I'm gonna fall asleep. We hafta do it now!” As if for inspection he straightens, lifts his chin, stares at her. “I come fast,” he promises with the pathetic, earnest dignity born of a lifetime justifying inadequacies. “And I don't slobber around after.”

The Mustang's shadowy hump rises from the side of the building. From here the man can't see Eddie crouched in back.

“See, you don't know … you don't understand … this isn't what you think,” she whispers. “This isn't—”

“I know what this is!” the man shouts, his narrow face hatefully
contorted. “It's a quick fuck before you go fuck your pimp on my fuckin’ twenty bucks.”

“No! Please! Listen!” With the press of sweat, his, hers, unwashed, vile, her knees sway. “I have to get out of here!”

“C'mere.” He's trying to kiss her mouth. “You sweet … sweet …”

“Where's your car?”

“He said his car …” Gesturing, he teeters.

“No! He's in there. In the back, waiting! C'mon!” She grabs his arm.

“Pervert … goddamn pervert.” The man staggers against her. “’Magine …”

It seems the longest walk through the heat, jagged and spitting light from the gigantic pink and lime green flower, flashing overhead, obscene against the stars and the high white peel of moon. Nearing the Mustang she senses Eddie's dark coil about to spring. She runs toward the man's car, pulling him with her.

“Hurry!” she hisses as he fumbles in his pocket.

“Oh, Jesus.” He peers at the loose keys in his palm. “She can't wait … here … here, she goes,” he mutters, finally unlocking the door. She scrambles inside, pushes down the lock on her side.

“Lock it!” she cries through the trapped heat.

Instead, he is rolling down his window, entreating her thickly to be patient. The Mustang door flies open and Eddie jumps out.

“Close it!” She leans, reaching across him to do it herself.

“Oh, you,” the man moans, forcing her head into his lap.

“No!” she groans, hitting him. She sits back. Blood trickles down her chin. His ring, nails, something has cut her lip. “Start the car! Just start the car!”

The man's window darkens. Eddie's hand darts in, opens the door. One knee braced on the seat, he jams the heel of his hand into the man's nose, shoves him against her. “Grab him! Hold him!” Eddie yells, face taut in the dim overhead light as he pins the man down. His struggling, oily head grinds against her chest. His whimpering pleas sicken her.

Through the distant night comes a probing yellow eye, the train's steel and wooden clatter, the hard-beating ruckus of the song:

So glad we made it
,

So glad we made it
,

You gotta gimme some lovin'
,

Gimme some lovin…

Breaking free, the man lurches forward, reaches under the seat. A lead pipe. He swings and Eddie knocks it from his hand.

“Asshole! Stupid asshole!” Eddie's eyes widen, his nostrils flare with the grin of gleaming teeth as the pipe splits the man's face in two. The man jerks forward, arms cradling his head. “What'd you do that for?” Eddie keeps demanding in a high, gasping voice, of her, of her, of her as the pipe smashes the man's head until he sags against the steering wheel.

Opening the door, she half falls, half slides, crawling, then running, across the road toward the looming yellow light. Crossing the tracks, she waves her arms and screams into the deafening commotion. “Help me! Help me!” Freight and tank cars roar by, parallel with the roadbed. “Help me! Help me! Help me!” she pants, running with the clattering train. In the gaps between cars, come flashes of headlights, going in the same direction as the train. “Oh, Eddie,” she cries, head back, arms pumping as she runs faster than she has ever run. “Eddie!” she sobs, teary phlegm leaking into her bloody mouth.

The caboose hurtles past, distant, fading, Eddie's taillights with it. She stumbles onto the road, back the way she came, the sudden quiet bearing only the platplatplat of her sandals on the macadam, her gasping, wheezy breath, as behind her swells the anxious whine of a car. She dives into the shallow ditch beside the tracks. Eyes closed, she lies curled in cinders. With her cheek to the hard rise of the gully, scrubby brambles snag her arms and legs. The oncoming wheels pulsate in her skull. He slows down, speeds past. She scrambles onto the road, stomach churning with every step. All at once she bends over, vomits, legs splayed, chest heaving, still gagging as headlamps flare high from behind,
illuminating the emptiness ahead. The truck slows in a squeal of air and brakes. The driver peers down from his silver cab. “You okay?” he hollers.

“I need a ride!”

“Get in!”

“Oh, Jesus,” she cries as the door closes and the big rig rumbles ahead.

“What happened?” the barrel-chested man asks, dead cigar stub clenched between his teeth. “You in trouble?”

“I don't know!”

“What happened?” He taps his chin, the blood.

“There was a fight … and my boyfriend … oh, God, I'm so scared. Something terrible happened. Oh, God, God, help me, please help me,” she sobs.

“He in a convertible? Yellow Mustang? Then slide down, just slide down,” the driver says. “Okay,” he says when the car whizzes by.

A few miles ahead a cruiser passes, dome light spinning red. The truck driver flips on his radio, keeps glancing in the rearview.

A woman's staticky voice: “Ambulance! Up to the club. Fast, Buddy says.”

“Oh, God,” she moans into her sticky hands.

“Somebody's hurt.” The driver looks at her.

“My boyfriend. Eddie,” she sobs. “This guy tried to hit him. With a pipe. And then, oh, God,” she gags, retching again.

“Hey, hey, c'mon now,” the driver says. “You're all right now. Hey, I got kids myself How old are you anyways?”

“Seventeen,” she bawls at the horror, the shame of it. Her careful upbringing, her hardworking, principled mother.

“What's your name?”

“Nora.” She hesitates. “Trimble.”