Before dawn on the day she would finally see his first real film, Beth Cappadora slipped into the guest room and lay down on the edge of the bed where her son, Vincent, slept.
Had she touched his hair or his shoulder, he would not have stirred. When he slept at all, Vincent slept like a man who'd fallen from a relaxed standing position after being hit on the back of the head by a frying pan. Still, she didn't take the risk. Her relationship with Vincent didn't admit of nighttime confidences, funny cards, all the trappings of the sentimental, platonic courtship between a mother and her grown boy. Instead, Beth blessed the air around his head, where coiled wisps of dark hair still sprang up as they had when he was a child.
Show them, Vincent, she said softly. Knock 'em dead.
Beth asked only a minor redemption-something that would stuff back the acid remarks that everyone had made about where Vincent's career of minor crime and major slough-offs would end, because it had so far outlasted the most generous boundaries of juvenile delinquency. She wished one thing itself, simple and linear: Let Vincent's movie succeed.
That night, as she watched the film, and recognized its might and its worth, Beth had to appreciate-by then, against her will-that her wish was coming true. What she didn't realize was something that she'd learned long ago.
Only long months from that morning did Beth, a superstitious woman all her life, realize she had forgotten that if a wish slipped like an arrow through a momentary slice in the firmament, it was free to come true any way it would. Only fools thought its trajectory could ever be controlled.
Sixteen hours after Beth tiptoed from Vincent's bedside, a spotlight beam shined out over the seat where she sat fidgeting and craning her neck to peek at everyone else taking their seats in the Harrington Community Center Auditorium.
Suddenly, there was Vincent, onstage. He looked up from nervously adjusting the pink tie he wore against his white shirt and twilight gray suit and said, "I have to apologize. We have a little technical glitch we need to fix and then we'll be ready. Thanks for your patience. In just a moment, the first voice you will hear is my sister, the opera singer Kerry Rose Cappadora, who also narrates this film. I'll be right back. I mean, the film will. Thanks again."
Beth leaned forward as if from the prow of a ship. Her husband, Pat, reached out to ease her back. "Don't jump," he teased. "You can't do this for him. It's high time, Bethie. You have to agree. Vincent's lived la vita facile too long."
"I know," Beth agreed. Though she didn't speak Italian, she wanted to poke Pat in the ribs and not gently. Vincent earned his way, after a fashion. Vincent owned a home, after a fashion-two rooms in Venice Beach, California, that had once been a garage. Vincent had made a gourmet chocolate commercial nominated for an ADDY Award. He hadn't asked them for a dime since...well, since the last time he dropped out of college. But she said only, "You're right, of course."
"Why aren't you arguing with me?" Pat asked. "What's the matter with you?" Beth shrugged, battling the urge to drag her fingers through her careful blowout: If you have to mess with your hair, Beth's friend Candy said, shake, don't rake. Pat cracked his knuckles. "Damn it," Pat said then. "Who am I trying to kid? I haven't wanted a cigarette this bad since the grease fire at the restaurant. I want to jump up on the stage and yell at everybody, This is my son's work! You better appreciate this! But we've got to give this over to him."
"Absolutely," Beth said, her heartbeat now a busy little mallet that must be visible through her pale silk chemise.
"You sound like a robot. Where's my wife? You could object a little," Pat said.
"Too nervous," Beth replied.
It was more than that, of course. Nothing that she could confide, even in Pat. For Beth was in part responsible for her son's brushes with the law and his seeming inability to finish...anything. (In part? Was she flattering herself? Once upon a time, Vincent had done everything he could, including selling a few bushels of thankfully low-order drugs, to get his mother's thousand-yard stare to focus on him.) If this film were to be worthy at all-Beth hugged herself, smiling-then this private screening for a hundred people in the rented theater of a community center would also be the long-overdue premiere of her son's life as a man in full.
More than this, in just a moment, Beth would learn the answers to the questions she'd asked herself for months.
What was the documentary about?
Why had Vincent enlisted his sister and his brother to help him make it? Last year, during the filming, had been the busiest time of their lives: Ben had a wife, a full share in the family business, and a baby on the way. Kerry still lived at her parents' house, but her college major was so demanding that some nights she came home from school or the voice studio with dark smudges under her eyes and fell asleep before she could eat the food she'd microwaved.
Was it because the subject was too intimate or incendiary or simply too off the wall to entrust to a stranger, even a fellow professional? Why had Vincent used film instead of video, which probably quadrupled the cost?
Was the obsessive privacy all pride? Did he have to do this all on his own?
With his first documentary, Alpha Female, a snapshot of the life of a young farmer's wife and mother of four putting herself through college as a part-time dominatrix, Vincent had turned to Beth, a photographer for nearly thirty years, on everything from how to light someone so blond that her features were nearly achromatic to how to coax an interview out of the woman's stern, disapproving parents. Beth recalled the look on her mother-in-law's face when that film had first screened, in the auditorium of the high school from which Vincent had been expelled. Freckle-faced Katie Hubner saddle-soaped her leather garter belt and said, "They don't care anything about sex, poor things! They just want me to treat them like their mean old mamas did!"
Of this film, Beth knew nothing but its title, No Time to Wave Goodbye. In her good moments, it seemed almost a private message from her older son. Her own first photo book-a series of black-and-white shots of her own children walking away from her, dragging fishing poles, hurrying toward the blooming pagoda of a fireworks display, each underlined with a tender quotation-was called Wave Goodbye.
What other connection could there possibly be?
Beth began to twist her wedding ring round and round. Did no one else notice the minutes that had collapsed since Vincent's introduction? Two, three...seven?
No one close to the family would mind. There they all were, chatting, her family, her in-laws, Ben and his wife, Eliza. People were admiring Ben and Eliza's baby, two-month-old Stella, Beth's first grandchild, on her very first outing. Along with Eliza's mother-Beth's beloved friend Candy-the crowd included dozens of business associates and old and new neighborhood friends. They were the cheering section.
But what about the others?
What of the one reviewer invited to this private event? Where was he? The fourth-row seat on the aisle reserved for him was still empty.
And all the guests Beth didn't recognize?
Would they hate the film if they had to wait much longer?
Beth glanced around her. In the same row, across the aisle, sat a perfect Yankee couple, ramrod-straight, their spines an inch from the seat backs-mother, father, impeccably coutured blond daughter. Several rows back, directly behind Beth, a soft, pretty young black woman held hands with her son, a slender young teenager. To the right and near the back door, there was a round-shouldered guy, not heavy but big, who might have been a day laborer with his snap-closure shirt rolled up to the elbows. No one sat beside him; in presence rather than size, he seemed to fill a row of his own. A young Latino couple-a sharply dressed young man and his hugely pregnant wife-patiently tolerated the two silently rambunctious preschoolers crawling all over them. An older man, who could have been an advertisement for mountain-climbing and Earth Shoes, sat just beyond the young couple. Who were these people? Who were they to Vincent?
The screen went dark.
Then from the darkness, a canvas appeared and, to the sound of Kerry's pure, sweet soprano singing "Liverpool Lullaby," a beautiful sequence of transparent photos of children was tacked to the cinematic canvas by an invisible hand. As soon as each eager face appeared, a name, height, and date of birth printed below it, like a Wanted poster, a visual force like a strong wind tore the picture off the screen. Beside the photos, words configured to look like a child's block printing unfurled. They read: A Pieces by Reese Production...written and produced by Vincent Cappadora and Rob Brent...in conjunction with John Marco Ruffalo Projects...edited by Emily Sydney...
Then came the last photo.
The last photo was Ben's preschool photo.
Beth gripped the arms of her seat. What?
Twenty-two years ago, that very photo had occupied the whole cover of People magazine. For almost a decade, it claimed real estate in the center of the corkboard in the office of Detective Supervisor Candy Bliss, as she had searched tirelessly for Beth's kidnapped son, to no avail. Posters made from this photo melted to tatters under the pummeling of rain and snow and sun and more rain and snow on thousands of light poles all over the Midwest and beyond. And they had produced nothing but phone calls from every crazy who wasn't behind bars and some who were, and a single, valid rumor of the sighting of that little boy in Minneapolis with a "white-haired" woman. That white-haired woman turned out to be a dyed platinum blonde-Beth's old schoolmate Cecilia Lockhart. Everyone remembered Cecil as nuts but not nuts. Yet, it was she, at Beth's fifteenth high-school reunion, who had taken Ben's hand and strolled with him out of the hotel lobby and out of Beth's life, for nine unrelenting years.
Though she tried, Beth could not stop her jaw from shuddering. She wanted to cling to Pat but dared not move. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention from the screen to herself. And yet, she already had.
Bryant Whittier, who sat in a cultivated posture of ease, flanked by his wife, Claire, elegant in a St. John knit suit, and his daughter, Blaine, demure for once in a designer wrap dress, saw Beth's minute gesture of distress. He recognized it from a dozen holding cells and living rooms. A defense lawyer, Bryant had observed closely the parents of the accused, particularly the moment when incredulity gave way to rage and then despair. Poor woman, he thought. She hadn't known.
When he interviewed them, Vincent said that no one but the crew understood the substance of this documentary, but Bryant hadn't believed that "no one" included the Cappadora brothers' close family. The slender, expensive-looking woman had to be Vincent's mother. In profile, she was the exact image of Vincent. He had never shown them a picture of his parents, but Bryant had found old news photos of the case on the Internet. This clearly was Beth, more attractive than Bryant would have imagined she would be by now. Bryant did not like heavyset women. He sometimes reminded his surviving daughter, who rowed in a coxed quad, to watch her prodigious appetite at the training table. He made a covert inventory of Beth, a cultivated professional knack that also had its personal uses. It was unfortunate. Her husband, or the man he assumed was Vincent's father, slouched with his arms hanging at his sides, as though they'd been dislocated.
Who would want to remember, if they didn't have to? And yet, it was their son, who, for reasons of his own, had made this film that Bryant participated in only against his will. He had talked to Sam-the name Ben used for himself-and Vincent's camera only because Claire and Blaine, who still had hope that Bryant's missing daughter, Jacqueline, was alive, pleaded with him to do so. There was an awful fairness here. Why shouldn't the filmmaker's family share in the suffering ripped open anew for all the families Vincent had found and featured?
Bryant put his hand on Claire's arm. She glanced at him, biting her lips. Bryant turned his attention back to the people in the three rows roped off by gold cord: The tiny girl whose long black hair swept over the baby swaddled in her arms? She wasn't Italian. Spanish of some kind?
Ah, yes. Bryant was grown forgetful.
This was Ben's wife.
Ben had married the adopted daughter of the detective, Candy, the sainted policewoman-Candy, whom all the family loved so well. To Bryant's mind, being unable to find a child whose kidnapper had moved him to a house blocks from the place where the Cappadoras had grown up meant no genius at sleuthing! From what the Whittiers understood, twelve-year-old Ben had actually found his birth family on his own, rather than the other way around, quite by accident, when he was passing out flyers offering to mow lawns. Bryant gingerly stroked his well-clipped beard. Hadn't Ben admitted that he'd been raised by the innocent man the kidnapper married, whom he thought of as his father? "Adopted" by this man, Ted-or was it George-who had no inkling that "Sam" wasn't Cecilia's own child? Hadn't Ben said that his "mother" (the only mother he knew) spent most of his childhood in and out of institutions? Was it from Ben, or from a newspaper account, that Bryant had learned that Cecilia, an actor Claire said she'd seen on an old soap opera, finally committed suicide?
Of course. Bryant would have read that. Ben...well, Sam, who still, oddly, answered only to the name given to him by the kidnapper, would not have volunteered it. For all his glad-handing humor, Ben was hard to know. Unlike his sister, he kept very definite doors closed.
Where was the sister, Kerry, the pretty little singer? Oh, there she was, just visible behind a fold of curtain on the stage, standing beside Vincent, watching the audience. Kerry didn't just wear her heart on her sleeve; she had no sleeve. The ideal juror, Bryant thought. Emotional. Impressionable. Visible. He smiled blandly, the expression cheerful enough to convince anyone who didn't look into his eyes. The woodland path on the screen was familiar. Bryant had told police that his daughter, Jacqueline, had taken that route as she walked to her death.