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Authors: John F. Dobbyn



Also by John F. Dobbyn
Neon Dragon


A Novel

John F. Dobbyn

Copyright © 2009 by John F. Dobbyn

first edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

: 978-1-933515-63-2

Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing,
Ipswich, Massachusetts

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

printed in the united states of america


Ninety nine percent of the great joy and excitement of seeing this story born into a book is seeing that joy and excitement in the eyes of the one whose faith, when it was needed most, made it possible — and who wrote the two hardest words of the whole book, the title — my love, my adventuring buddy, and, thank God, my wife — Lois.



For the life of me, at that moment, if I had to decide which side of the line I was on, I'd have had to flip a coin. The first clue that I was still on this side of the great abyss was a distant rustling of cloth. There were other clues, like a migraine that ran from every hair follicle to wherever my toes were. It seemed to ripple like “the wave” at a Patriots' game.

I opened my eyes a crack and found that they just let in more darkness. The debate became whether or not to call out. It could bring help or heaven knows what.

I heard a voice close to my ear. It was coarse and as gruff as the bark of a pit boss, but it sounded like an angel of God to me.

“Michael, can you hear me?”

It was Zeus in a stage whisper. Only Lex Devlin, senior partner of the law firm of Devlin and Knight — of which I was the junior partner — would ask that. They could hear him in Toronto.

“Mr. Devlin.”

I was less surprised at how throaty the words sounded than the fact that they came out at all. “What are we doing here? And where is here?”

“Lie still, son. You're in the Mass. General Hospital. Do you remember anything?”

I was beginning to get flashbacks, but first things first.

“My eyes. Are they—?”

“You'll be all right. You had a roadmap of lacerations around the face. That's why the bandages. The restraints are to keep your hands away from the bandages.”

I settled back in a quick prayer of thanks. That was the big one.

“Anything broken?”

“No. Concussion was the biggest worry. You've been out a while.”

“How long?”

“Two and a half days.”

I tried to flash back through my trial schedule to see if I could afford the time.

“How long have you been here, Mr. Devlin?”

“Two and a half days.” The voice that said it was different. When the bandages came off later that day, I was able to match the new voice with a male nurse.

“We couldn't get him to leave. I wanted to give him bedpan rounds just to see him move.”

The vision of Lex Devlin, lion of the criminal defense bar, doing bedpans, and the joy that might bring to every assistant district attorney in Boston, brought a smile to my cracking lips.

Slowly the pieces started coming back. It must have happened three days earlier, Friday afternoon. I remembered coming down the steps of the federal courthouse about five o'clock in the afternoon. I could feel the cool fresh air untying knots in every gangle of nerves after a two-day trial before the right honorable and certifiably loony Judge Chauncy Hayes.

The Friday afternoon surge of humanity was at its peak. I had five minutes to make it to the parking garage on Devonshire Street. My usual Friday lunch partner, John McKedrick, had cancelled that day for the first time in seven years. He'd offered the alternative of a drive to the North Shore that evening for dinner at the General Glover. I accepted the offer as full payment of a wagering debt he'd owed me since the Bruins had eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in four straight.

My legs were in overdrive up Federal Street. I was catching the glares and snarls of a crowd never known for pedestrian collegiality.

I remembered rounding the bend at the entrance of the parking garage in full lather, a mere three minutes late. I climbed to the top
level of the parking garage and saw John in his Chrysler Sebring, top down. He caught sight of me and began making an elaborate mime of examining his watch. John and I had been close friends since we graduated from Harvard Law School seven years earlier. I figured that entitled me to suggest where he might relocate his watch. In restraint, I did it in mime. I caught the grin on the face of the garage attendant watching these full-grown three-year-olds. I could hear John's infectious laugh as he reached down toward the ignition. I glanced over at the still grinning garage attendant, and the world cracked in two.

The last thing I could remember was being hit with something that felt like the defensive front line of the New England Patriots. An instant later, it seemed, Lex Devlin was telling me that I had coasted through two and a half days.


Tuesday was a day that could wring joy out of the heart of an incurable optimist. The shivers that seized every one of us gathered around that bleak pit came not just from the dank, depressing drizzle. The box we were about to lower into that black hole held a body that had exuded wit and brilliance and lightness of spirit before the car bomb put an end to it all. We knew that our John McKedrick was in the peaceful embrace of the Lord. We also knew that we'd never again in this life ride high on that laugh that must now be delighting the angels.

Physically, I was back in the game. With the exception of a temple gong in the back of my skull and lines of facial stitches that gave me the look of a Cabbage Patch Doll, I was able to sit up and take nourishment and attend funerals.

Father Tim McNamee handled the tough part from the church ceremony to the gravesite. He had known John much longer than I had. They had shared an Irish upbringing in South Boston and a great deal more in the way of friendship. I felt for him as he choked out the part about “Ashes to ashes and dust—” He belted out the words about resurrection with the Lord with conviction, but I could tell that he was, like the rest of us, in the grip of a deep mourning for his own personal loss.

I had spoken to John's parents at the church, so there was no need to match manufactured smiles again. There were, however, a couple of standouts in the crowd. I was somehow surprised, for reasons I can't quite define, to see the poker-faced, sharkskin-clad figure of Benny Ignola lurking on the fringe of the crowd. It was
drizzling rain and dark enough to show slides, but old Benny was, as always, hidden behind a pair of shades that must have rendered him legally blind.

Benny had carved a semihandsome living out of being legal counsel to the lower-to-middle-level Mafia. The big shots in the North End of Boston hid behind the talents of the more prestigious graduates of Ivy League law schools. It was, however, one of their overhead expenses to throw Benny into the pit on the side of the prostitutes, drug runners, kneecap mechanics, and what are euphemistically called “cleaners.” Word had it that he was actually on retainer by the Boston chapter of the Mafia.

Somehow the fact that he was at the gravesite sandpapered the part of me that should have been the first to admit that it was none of my business. The truth is that it had been grinding away at me for seven years. When we graduated from law school, John McKedrick accepted a job as Benny Ignola's sole associate.

I remember saying, “Johnny, stay away from that parasite. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

He told me that he was a big boy, and that I could do him the favor of treating him like one. I remember him saying, “I'll get experience in court from day one. While you're still arguing motions, I'll be trying jury cases.”

I gave him a look that at least wrung a concession. “Listen Mike, I'll give him two years, three maybe. Then I'm on to cleaner pastures.”

I reminded John of that conversation on each anniversary of the three years. The flea quote was more truth than poetry. Every year spent with Benny Ignola reduced the chances of any respectable law firm touching Benny's protégé. John was locked in, although I never completely lost hope that he'd escape. In fact, there was something in his voice when he invited me to the North Shore for dinner instead of our usual lunch that Friday that smacked of a news bulletin. It was probably wishful thinking, but I'd been grasping at that particular straw all day Friday — until it became moot.

Looking beyond Benny, I caught sight of a much more inspiring vision. There was a young lady at the fringe of the people
waiting for a chance to speak to John's parents. I wondered why I had wasted three looks at Benny when I could be analyzing why that face made the clouds and the drizzle disappear.

There was not a chance that those sparkling blue eyes and reddish auburn hair were any less Irish than John McKedrick himself. She carried herself with that smart, perky confidence that let her forget herself while she charmed everyone around her.

The longer I looked, the more I wondered if she could have figured into the news bulletin that I would now never hear from John. Only one way to find out.

I crossed between gravestones on the only path that would intercept her before she left. It took me directly behind Benny, who kept the shades pointing straight ahead. The voice, however, reached around to catch me in mid-step.

“Knight. See you a minute.”

I stopped, but that was the only recognition I was up to. He turned just enough to be able to glance at me over the shades. Then it was the back of his head again.

“We should talk.”

I stayed where I was. “And what would we talk about, Benny?”

He pushed the glasses back to full mast. I could visualize a sardonic grin creeping across his lips.

“You're very superior, aren't you, Knight? Very above all this.”

“Not superior, Benny. We walk different paths.”

“And you don't approve of my path. Somehow I'll find a way to live with that.” The sarcasm was flowing over the top of my shoes.

I started to move off. He caught me again.

“Nevertheless, Knight, we should talk.”

“I'm still at a loss to think of a subject we should talk about, Benny.”

I could hear the smug grin in his tone. “You'll think of one, Knight. One of these days you'll ask yourself why this terrible thing should happen to a sweet boy like John McKedrick. You'll come to me to talk. And you know what, kid?”

“No, what, Mr. Ignola?”

“Maybe I'll talk to you. Because I'm too big a man to carry a grudge.”

With that exit line, he moved his self-satisfied little carcass in the direction of a sleek, black Jaguar. I washed all trace of Benny from my mind with the vision of the auburn-haired colleen who was just leaving John's parents.

I reached the edge of the crowd in time to see her beginning to pull out of the line of parked cars in a Volkswagen bug. I sprinted at the best speed my recently sandblasted joints could muster and rapped on the driver's-side window.

She was somewhat startled at the intrusion. In fact, one look at my face at the window and she showed signs of shell shock. When I caught a glimpse of my stitches in the rearview mirror, I realized she must have thought Dr. Frankenstein's handicraft was hitching a ride.

I smiled and backed off enough to induce her to roll the window down an inch.

“I'm sorry. I just — I'm Michael Knight. I was—”

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