Jeff Abbott: Distant Blood

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Jeff Abbott Distant Blood
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    Distant Blood
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Jeff Abbott

Distant Blood

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families.

-Charles Dickens, David Copperfield


Mortal fear is knowing you've been poisoned. I sagged against the fine oak paneling, agony vying with numbness for control of my body. My heart raced with the knowledge that it was pounding its last rhythm, like the beat of a runner's shoes against the road as he surges toward the finish line, toward blessed rest. Bile rose in my throat and I swallowed, trying to steady my breathing. I slid down to the floor, dizziness and nausea washing across my body like an obscene tide. I tried to cry for help and my throat felt dead. Raising one leaden arm, I managed to focus my vision on the blurred figures in the room.

And blinking, saw murder done before my eyes.

Step back with me two months.

My name is Jordan Poteet, and I'm the library director for the small Texas town of Mirabeau. This sometimes quiet hamlet lies on a crook of the Colorado River in the rolling countryside between Houston and Austin. Mostly the houses are tidy, the flower beds edged with a draftsman's precision, the street loud with the laughter of playing children. But don't be fooled by Mirabeau's tranquillity. I've been back home for a little over a year and the past months have shocked me to the core of my being. I've seen death, and suffering, and loyalty, and love the likes of which I'd never known. But finally, my life had mellowed into a fairly easy ride-easy despite dealing with my mother's increasingly severe Alzheimer's and the unnerving fact that the man I forever thought was my father… wasn't. And just when I thought I'd sailed into relative calmness, ordering my life into a semblance of normalcy, my biological father, Bob Don Goertz, upset my boat. By issuing the invitation from hell.

My girlfriend Candace Tully did not react in the way I'd hoped.

“Of course you're going,” Candace said, brushing my hair out of my eyes.

We sat on the back-porch swing, sipping wine and watching the evening slide into purples and oranges as the sun set brilliantly against the hills. The loblolly pines were etched in darkness as light fled below the horizon.

“I am not going to this stupid reunion. All those people are Bob Don's family, not mine.” I gulped at my wine. I can be as stubborn as a government mule when I set my mind to it and I could feel my brain encasing in concrete recalcitrance.

“Jordan. I think you could show Bob Don some consideration.”

I hate it when Candace is entirely reasonable. Especially when I'm trying my darnedest to be difficult.

“I know. I don't want to hurt his feelings. But going to his family reunion; I'd feel like a total freak.”

“You're his son, Jordan. He's proud of you. He wants you in his life and he wants his family to know you. That's not unusual.”

“No, the unusual part is I didn't know he was my father for the first thirty-odd years of my life.” I stood and paced out to the yard.

The house, with my family relocated out to the horse farm we'd recently acquired, had taken on an air of abandonment and desolation. The garden, usually thick with tomatoes and other vegetables, lay barren. Empty wire circles and wooden stakes stood in forlorn disuse. Flower beds, denuded of blossoms, looked fashioned of lunar soil, bereft of life.

I missed the gentle swish of the broom while my mother, her mind rotted with Alzheimer's, moved back and forth across the porch, caught in an empty repetition that was only broken by taking the broom from her hands. I missed my sister's gentle nagging and teasing as she attempted daily to dictate the course of my life. I missed my nephew Mark's energy and sarcasm, his reliance on me that I never appreciated until he'd moved out of the house. My family was only a few miles away, but it felt as though they'd voyaged to the other side of the planet.

“There's nothing that we can do to change how you found out about your parentage,” Candace reminded me, grinding away in reasonable mode. “The Goertzes are your family as well.”

“I have a family, thank you kindly,” I said. “I feel no burning need for a bunch of new relatives. Lord knows the ones I have are trouble enough. If I want to shimmy up unexplored branches of my family tree, I'll call a genealogist and ask for the bastard discount rate.”

Candace came up behind me and tapped me firmly on the shoulder. I turned to face her. God, she was everything I had ever wanted, with her kind smile, logical mind, thick chestnut-colored hair, and intelligent lake-blue eyes. She was nearly too petite for a tall fellow like me, but strength radiated out of her and I'd always been drawn to it like metal to magnet. She stood on tiptoe, put her hands on my shoulders-her signal for a kiss. I leaned down and pressed my lips to hers. When the tender embrace broke, she cupped my face in her hands and gently pecked at my closed eyelids. Her palms felt warm and soft against my face.

“Jordan,” she breathed softly, “these people are part of you. They will want to know about you and you will want to know about them, even if you don't believe that right now. Go. Meet them. Otherwise, you're always going to wonder if you don't. And Bob Don-”

“I know. It's important to Bob Don. But as much as he's done for me, I still find it hard to think of him as my father. I mean, to say it aloud, to see him in my daddy's place-”

“He's not trying to replace your father,” Candace whispered, her breath soft against my chest. I'm sure we made quite a gossipmongering sight for the neighbors, locked in this long cuddle. Not that I cared. Talking to her, holding her this way, felt far more intimate than our ardent lovemaking had. I'd been scared of the deepening closeness between us, but I'd resolved not to let fear turn me away from Candace.

“He could never replace my dad,” I answered, resting my chin in her soft-smelling hair.

“He doesn't want to. But he wants to be a father to you- he's not trying to be a clone of your daddy that raised you. Don't you see the difference, hon?”

“No. I've just been fitted for my emotional blinders.” I leaned back and smiled down into her face. “I'm just being stubborn. It's my specialty.”

“Yet I still love you.” She punched me in the shoulder. “You know Bob Don's wanted to claim you as his own son for years. Give him the chance, Jordy. He didn't have a choice in not acknowledging you.”

Yes, he did, I thought bitterly, but I kept this most selfish musing to myself.

Candace continued: “He did everything that he thought was best for you. He let you grow up in a healthy, loving home. He could have made you a pawn, used you against your own parents. He never would have been hurtful. Give him this, please. Think-think of what you might lose if you don't try. He's your biological father. He matters.”

“The things I let you talk me into.”

She nestled close to me and I felt her face smile against my chest. “It's just 'cause I love you.”

“Will you go with me? Don't leave me alone with the Goertzes. I don't know how delighted the rest of his family will be with the new bastard son.”

“Of course. So it's settled?”

“Yes.” I nodded, smiling.

She kissed me again, with fervor, and ran her fingernail deliciously along the bare skin of my arm. “Then let's go upstairs.”

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