I shall not see the shadows, I shall not feel the rain; I shall not hear the nightingale And dreaming through the twilight That doth not rise nor set, Text by Christina Rosetti When I Am Dead, My Dearest I hit the stop button and pulled the tape out of the machine abruptly. David handed me the plastic case.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Sure," I lied, fumbling with the cover, feeling unreasonable irritation over his penchant for such ancient and sentimental recordings. "Are we nearly there?" It was a stupid question. I knew the roads as well as he did.
He took no notice. "Nearly there," he said.
Good old reliable David—always calm, always predictable. I was glad it was him who told me. He was always able to soothe me. On this occasion, though, there wasn't much he could do to lighten the blow.
"Your father had a terrible accident, Suzanna," he said. "I'm afraid he's...dead."
His voice was emotionless. The words slipped from his lips, like acid over steel. My first impulse was to laugh. The thought of Leopold Dirkston being mortal like the rest of us was preposterous. Yet I knew David would certainly not joke about something as macabre as my father's death. Disbelief was immediately replaced by horror.
"How?" I asked. We were sitting in the cabin. He'd appeared on my doorstep without warning, and I knew before he even opened his mouth that something was amiss.
"I'm afraid it was just one of those horrible things, darling. I found him in the swimming pool. He must have fallen and hit his head, and..."
I tried, without success, to visualize this fantastic concept.
"You found him?"
"Yes. Colin and I stopped by to go over some business and, well, he was just floating there in the pool. We pulled him out and started CPR right away. For a while we even thought..." he made a helpless gesture. "Dad came over right away and rode with him in the ambulance, but I'm afraid he died on the way."
I didn't hear the rest. An anthill of thoughts burst open and I felt my head reel with the effort to focus.
"I'm sorry, Suzanna."
He reached over and his long fingers engulfed mine with a warm, dry strength I found unbearable. My eyes lifted to his face and I saw that, for the first time in my life, David couldn't comfort me. This thought sent a bolt of panic through me, and I snatched my hand away and fled to the bathroom to be sick.
That was only a few hours ago. I'd had no choice but to pack my few things and head for home. Now it was just after one a.m. and the towering steel gates of Beacon, Leo's estate, had just come into view. I wasn't eager to be back. I'd grown to resent Beacon nearly as much as I resented its creator. At times I wondered if it was, in fact, some sort of extraneous limb of my father's. A few locations remained untainted by his dynamic personality. There was High Dune, my bedroom, the lighthouse—these places were mine and mine alone. Just knowing they were there waiting made my homecoming more palatable.
David pressed a button on the intercom affixed to the gatepost. "It's me, John," he said.
I could see the security guard peer out the window of the small gatehouse and, recognizing David's car, waved acknowledgment. Seconds later, the gates slid open, allowing us to pass.
I hadn't met John. I did know we employed two guards at Beacon, one to screen visitors at the front gate and one to patrol the grounds. Grant Fenton looked after that side of things. Even if I didn't see them, I always knew the guards were there, so it was impossible to feel completely private.
"You said he asked for me?" I was still searching for answers.
David glanced in my direction. "Yes. He seemed to come to for a moment, just before the ambulance arrived. He said your name. That was all."
"But why? Why would he?" I felt sick again.
David's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Dad says he's sure it was an accident, Suzanna. Leo had had a few drinks, stumbled on something by the pool, fell and hit his head on the concrete edge."
I frowned. Leo didn't have accidents. He'd built an empire by using good judgment and sound logic. He rose from the slums of Chicago to a position as owner and president of one of the largest shipping firms on the Great Lakes. No, I couldn't believe he simply made a fatal 'mistake.' But if not an accident, then what? Once again I shivered, afraid to follow the path my instincts chose. Instead, I took a different approach.
"Did he have a lot to drink?"
David shrugged. "I don't know. Dad seemed to think so. You know how it once was...after your mother died? We believe if he was sober, he might not have stumbled."
I hesitated. "Was he...was he drinking often? I mean since I left?"
He didn't answer right away and I noticed his lips tighten. Finally, he looked at me. "Suzanna, don't do this to yourself. It wasn't your fault. It was an accident, that's all—a tragic accident. Blaming yourself will do no one any good."
"You haven't answered my question."
He let out his breath in exasperation. "Okay, okay... Yes, I suppose you could say he was drinking more than usual! But it wasn't as much or as often as before."
My palms began to perspire and I gripped the door handle, remembering the last time I saw my father.
"A writer? You want to be a writer?"
He sat behind his heavy mahogany desk and stared at me as if I'd just announced I wanted to have my leg amputated for cosmetic purposes. The huge wall of glass behind him looked out over the bay and South Chicago's Calumet district. With the sun framing him, he looked like Thor, ready to hurl his golden hammer and smite the traitor before him.
I didn't flinch, forcing myself to be calm. After all, I expected this, didn't I?
His hair was thick and clung together in gray bouffant perfection, dramatically streaked with black. With wry amusement, I noticed he'd let his sideburns grow and was now sporting a moustache. Despite all his old-world ideals, he still wanted to keep up with the younger set.
"Yes, Dad." My voice was steady and I lifted my chin, a gesture intrinsically his. "I've had a novel accepted by Charlotte Press in New York. It's to be released in a few months."
I was excited, but I tried not to sound like a schoolgirl on her first date. This contract was the realization of my greatest dream. I was being accepted as a writer on my own merits without benefit of any influence from my father or his powerful name. With this goal achieved, I was now ready to take on the world.
"They told me they might be interested in second novel," I added, as if it would make any difference.
"Charlotte Press." He said the name as if it were melting ice-cream. "What the hell do they publish? Comic books?"
I felt my resolve begin to crumple. "They publish—" It was too late. I knew what he would say and finished the sentence in barely a whisper. "—romances." I chewed my lower lip.
His bushy eyebrows flew up and he burst into laughter.
Molten rage welled up inside me and I turned on my heel to go.
"Wait, Suzie!" He struggled to regain his composure. He blew his nose and wiped his eyes, still chuckling. "Romances," he repeated to himself.
I stood woodenly. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of responding to his outburst.
"Well," he said, his mirth now under control, "this is a surprise! And has dear David helped you research this romance of yours?" His sarcasm wasn't lost. It was a vulgar thing to say, and I knew he was baiting me for a fight. Instead, I chose to ignore the implication, telling myself he must indeed feel threatened to resort to such cruel tactics.
"I wish you'd try to understand." I said, my voice much calmer than I felt. "If you love me like you keep telling me you do..." I stopped. Now I was sinking to his level.
His voice cut in like a thunderclap.
"Don't you give me that, young lady! Everything I've ever done was for you—and your mother, God rest her." A fleeting shadow passed over his face and as quick as his anger had erupted, it abated. He leaned back in his chair, drained and suddenly old. He gazed at me, puzzled.
"Why won't you come to me?" he asked. "Hell, I'd buy the damn publishing company for you if that's what you want! Why do you have to grovel?"
I sighed. It was no use. How could I ever make him see I had my own ambitions—needed to earn my own applause? He was so very brilliant in his own world of import, export and finance, and yet so very naive when it came to simple human nature.
As I looked into his confused eyes, I felt like weeping. "I'm sorry, Daddy." It was all I could manage, and the helplessness of that utterance only served to widen the vast chasm gaping between us. I could now see with pinpoint clarity that we would always be strangers.
Copyright © 2000 Maureen M. McMahon