“Do you understand what marriage means, honey?” Mom asks. “It’s not some joke. We’re very concerned. We don’t want to see you turn out like your—”
“Don’t, Mother,” I warn her. “Don’t say it.”
“You need to be honest with him about who you really are,” Ana tells me.
“Or we will be,” Jane adds.
I smile sweetly and give them the finger.
“Enough.” Gran stands up. “We’ve said our piece. Please do us the courtesy of thinking it over.” She heads for the kitchen, but stops. “By the way, I asked around about your future mother-in-law.”
“Watch yourself. She’s a killer.” With that, Gran vanishes through the swinging doors.
vodka lemonade and a few more attacks on my character, I escape my mothers and wander upstairs to my old bedroom. I guess I expected it to remain unchanged all these years, my relics preserved intact: the mangy patchwork quilt covering my narrow bed, the poodle lamp, my Harry Potter books. But no. My room is now an exercise studio. There’s a treadmill, a mirrored wall and one of those exercise poles that women use for—
Oh, Lord. I really didn’t need that image.
Still, the ghost of my old room lingers, in the height marks penciled on the door frame and the stickers plastered on the inside of the closet door. In the dozens of small cuts in the ceiling above the bed, from the hours Teddy and I spent lying on our backs, throwing knives and trying to make them stick.
I finally slip out of the house and head for the hotel. I take the side streets, dusty little alleys where working folks used to live. When I left Key West, a lot of these houses were pretty ramshackle—rotting wood siding, peeling shingles, scrubby yards. A few are still like that, but most have been renovated into blinding pastel perfection, with artfully disheveled landscaping and German cars parked in front. The fishermen and cigar makers wouldn’t recognize their old homes. I guess it’s progress.
It’s a hot, still Sunday afternoon. Close by, a rooster crows. A man swears at it. A moped revs up in the distance. And just like that, I’m fourteen again. I’ve climbed out my bedroom window and shimmied down the Indian almond tree in the side yard, escaping yet another grounding. An endless Sunday afternoon stretches before me. I turn a corner, expecting to see Teddy leaning against a fence, waiting for me.
My phone rings, shattering the illusion. I glance at the display before I answer. “We were just talking about you.”
“Darling, forgive me! My plane is delayed. I’m sitting in some vile airport bar, but all I can think about is how soon I’m going to be holding you in my arms.”
My father’s voice is ardent, eager, breathless. For about three seconds I am deeply confused.
Then I get it.
“You speed-dialed wrong, Dad.”
There’s a long pause. “Who is this?” he asks suspiciously.
I laugh. “How many people call you Dad, Dad?”
!” He laughs too. “Sorry, darling—I meant to call someone else.”
Master of the obvious. “Should I ask who?”
He hesitates. “I think not.”
“Right. Let me let you go.”
“No, no, wait!” I hear ice cubes rattling in a glass and the murmur of nearby conversation. “I’m bored, little one. Amuse me. Tell me the news.”
I turn a corner, trailing my hand along a picket fence. “Get this. They want me to call off the wedding.”
“What?” he cries. “Who?”
“The coven. They say it’s not fair to Will. That he doesn’t really know me.”
“As if that’s a reason not to marry a person,” Dad scoffs.
“So … you don’t agree?”
I hear him say, “Another of the same, please.” Back to me: “Of course not! Those women haven’t a clue what they’re talking about. Think about it, Lily. The human heart is the darkest of all mysteries. Who among us can honestly say he knows,
knows, anyone else? Who even knows himself? Not you.
not me. Why, the other day I found myself …”
I close my eyes and let it wash over me. My father has the most beautiful voice. It’s low and melodious. Posh. Like melted English toffee.
“Can you imagine what would happen if people
their spouses properly before marrying them?” he’s saying. “It would be a calamity!
The institution would wither and die. The family unit would disintegrate. Humanity,” he concludes grandly, “would
I open my eyes. “But Dad. What if Will and I get married and realize later that we’re not suited for each other?”
“Darling,” he chuckles. “What do you think divorce is for?”
I try to break it down for him. “Look, Henry. I can’t get married thinking that if it doesn’t work out, I can walk away. The moms put on this big, jokey act for Will just now, pretending that the divorces were no big deal. The divorces were mini Hiroshimas. I never want to get divorced. What if I have children?”
Dad says, “Thank you, that’s lovely, cheers.” Then he sighs heavily into the phone. “I find all this talk of children so fatiguing. We’re obsessed with children nowadays. Think about the children. What about the children. Suffer the little children. What people don’t realize is that divorce is
“Divorce prepared you to face the world, little one. It taught you about the fundamental instability of the universe. The inevitability of change. It showed you that the only thing you can depend on in life is that nothing will remain the same.”
“So the horrific breakups were all for my benefit? Wow, Dad. That’s—”
He doesn’t even hear me. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least that gay people want the right to marry. They simply want their children to have the same advantages that the children of heterosexuals have.”
“The advantage of being from a broken home?”
“This isn’t exactly helpful, Daddy.”
More rattling ice cubes. “Lily, don’t you know I’m only joking?”
“Well, no,” he admits. “I suppose I’m quite serious.”
, darling. You know I’m rubbish at these emotional conversations. If you’re asking my opinion, I think you ought not to take it all so seriously. You should just … keep your chin up, and all that. Go with the flow, follow your heart, and … et cetera, et cetera.”
I don’t say anything.
“Look,” he continues. “Don’t do anything drastic, and stop letting those women fill your ear with poison. I’ll be down there in a few days, and I’ll stand by your side. We’ll fight off whatever they throw at you. What do you say?”
“Yeah, Dad. Sounds super.”
“That’s the spirit! Cheers, love! Bye!”
We hang up, and I turn onto the walkway to our hotel. It’s an old 1930s place with a tiled roof and creamy stucco walls, perched on the south end of the island. Sharing my fears with my father hadn’t exactly been comforting. But what was I thinking, asking him for guidance? This was the man who’d urged me to go to Harvard Law School instead of Yale based on a single night he’d spent in Cambridge years ago, drinking perfect martinis at the Charles Hotel. Good judgment isn’t exactly his strong suit.
Also, the martinis at the Charles? Way too weak.
I wonder what Will’s going to make of Henry. My father has organized his entire life around a single principle: maximizing his own pleasure. He’s carefree. Uncomplicated. Doesn’t overthink things. Arguably doesn’t think at all. He has no fears for the future, no regrets about the past. He simply goes where his inclinations take him. Thanks to a few hardworking ancestors who spent the nineteenth century sailing around the world, buying and selling (and stealing) things, Henry never had to earn a living. After getting kicked out of Oxford, he decided to become a novelist, so he moved to Key West, where he met Mom. He never finished the book—he liked the drinking and fishing parts of the Hemingway myth more than the backbreaking hours at a desk. So he decided to get into the movie business, which took him to L.A., where he met Ana. When that didn’t work out, he headed for New York to try his hand at philanthropy—and, it turns out, Jane.
It’s a little hard to explain Henry to someone like Will, who’s so serious and intellectual, so focused on his career. Their meeting should be interesting.
The lobby of the hotel is cool and pleasant, with rugs scattered on the mahogany floors and ceiling fans turning lazily above. French doors along the back wall are open to the beach. A package from the firm is
waiting for me at the front desk. Good—I could use some professional distraction.
I find our room, which is airy and bright, with a balcony overlooking the water. The package contains a binder and a note from Lyle: “Enjoy the first two e-mails.”
I open the binder. I read the first two e-mails. Lyle picks up on the first ring. “What.”
“Are you kidding me with this shit?”
“Will you guys give me a minute?” Lyle says to someone. To me: “I don’t have a lot of time, so shut up and listen. Here’s what you have to do. Meet with Hoffman. Do a standard deposition prep. Then, help him come up with a plausible explanation for why he’s such a stupid son of a bitch.”
“Can we back up a minute?” I say. “I don’t work on this part of the case. I work on the environmental claims, remember? I don’t know anything about Hoffman or this accounting stuff.”
“It’s deposition prep, Wilder. Not rocket science.”
“Right.” I stretch out on the bed and start flipping through the rest of the binder. “And I’m sure you would love to see me screw up and look bad in front of Philip. But do you think maybe you could clue me in a little bit, so that this deposition isn’t a complete disaster?”
“Fine.” I hear his chair creak as he leans back. “Where do you want to start?”
“Explain why the plaintiffs want to depose an accountant in a lawsuit about an oil spill.”
“Oil spill,” Lyle repeats. “I’m not familiar with that term. Perhaps you’re referring to the alleged industrial accident on an offshore oil rig that allegedly caused the dispersal of certain quantities of unrefined petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico?”
“Whatever, Lyle. The rig exploded, millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf, and plaintiffs are suing EnerGreen on behalf of all the people whose lives were ruined by this colossal fuckup.”
“Alleged colossal fuckup,” he says.
“Where does the accounting come in?”
I hear muffled voices. “No,” Lyle says. “I said double-sided. This is
useless to me. Do it over.” Back to me: “So, after the
incident, our client, EnerGreen Energy, took a big hit on its financial statements, based on losses it anticipated from the spill.”
“Compensation to the victims, fines, et cetera, right? It was fifty billion or something insane like that.” I get up and carry the binder out onto the balcony, where I drop into a chair.
“Right,” Lyle replies. “But according to the amended complaint filed last month, EnerGreen allegedly inflated that figure to hide losses suffered in another part of the company. The plaintiffs are now claiming that EnerGreen exploited a horrific environmental disaster to conceal unrelated wrongdoing.”
I’d read those new allegations, but assumed it was all a bunch of empty rhetoric to make EnerGreen sound worse than it is. “Do they have any proof?”
“Solid proof?” Lyle says. “No. But there are discrepancies in EnerGreen’s financial statements that seem to support the plaintiffs’ argument.”
“It’s some technical accounting thing,” he says dismissively. “Urs says the finance people can easily explain it. But it looks shady, which is all the plaintiffs care about.”
I prop my feet up on the railing and look out at the water. There’s a fishing boat anchored close to shore, and a man standing in the bow casting for bait. With one long, graceful sweep of his arm, he sends the net spinning lightly onto the waves. Seagulls circle hungrily. Thirty yards out, the turquoise water turns darker where the ocean floor drops away.
“So what’s Hoffman’s role in all this?” I ask.
“He reviewed EnerGreen’s financial statements before they went to the outside auditors. He’s the person who would be responsible for catching any mistakes or shifty accounting tricks.” Lyle pauses. “‘Midlevel CPA nobody’ is his official title. But as you’ve seen, he also holds the unofficial post of immortal poet of the golden age of e-mail.”
I open the binder and read Hoffman’s first e-mail out loud:
From a financial reporting perspective, this oil spill is the best goddamn thing that ever happened to us.
“Gives me shivers,” Lyle says. “Every time.”
I turn to the second e-mail:
I’ll give these loss estimates a good old scrub-a-dub before they go to Ernst & Young. It’s kind of a scam, but who’s going to notice?
“It’s kind of a scam,” Lyle repeats dreamily. “Not a full-blown scam, not a big scam, or a little scam, but …
a scam. The ambiguity is thrilling.”
“So are the plaintiffs right? Did EnerGreen commit fraud?”
“Come on, Wilder,” he says impatiently. “You know how this works. Some idiot dashes off a terrible e-mail, and random plaintiffs take it completely out of context to show that the whole company is a massive criminal enterprise. Hoffman’s an idiot. A drudge. He doesn’t know anything.”
“But EnerGreen still doesn’t want him testifying about the e-mails. If there’s the slightest suspicion that something funny is going on with their financial reporting, the DOJ and the SEC will be all over them. Add that to the ongoing PR nightmare of the botched cleanup efforts, the protesters, the lost business? Forget it.”
I watch a couple of windsurfers skidding across the surface of the water. Looks like fun. “Why doesn’t EnerGreen just settle?”
“Because they’re rich Texas assholes who don’t want to pay twenty billion dollars to a bunch of shrimp-boat captains.”
“Urs isn’t an asshole,” I point out. “Or Texan.”
Urs is the EnerGreen in-house counsel assigned to our case. He’s a transplant from the company’s European division, which is based in Geneva. He’s supposed to be supervising our work, but he’s terrified of Philip and has no idea how American-style litigation works. Another sterling example of our client’s negligence—assigning a foreign regulatory attorney to a $20 billion lawsuit. Not that it matters, in this case—they have Philip.