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ONE WEEK LATER, HILTON HEAD ISLAND

THE MORNING WAS overcast, the sky the same gray as the sea, when the few of us who had loved Benton Wesley assembled on an empty, undeveloped point on the plantation of Sea Pines.

We parked near condominiums and followed a path that led to a dune. From there we made our way through sand spurs and sea oats. The beach was more narrow here, the sand less firm, and driftwood marked the memory of many storms.

Marino was in a pinstripe suit he was sweating through, and a white shirt and dark tie, and I thought it might have been the first time I had ever seen him so properly dressed. Lucy was in black, but I knew I would not see her until later, for she had something very important to do.

McGovern had come and so had Kenneth Sparkes, not because they had known him, but because their presence was their gift to me. Connie, Benton's former wife, and their three grown daughters were a knot near the water, and it was odd looking at them now and feeling nothing but sorrow. We had no resentment, no animosity or fear left in us. Death had spent it all as completely as life had brought it about.

There were others from Benton's precious past, retired agents and the former director of the FBI Academy who long years before had believed in Benton's prison visits and research in profiling. Benton's expertise was an old, tired word now, ruined by TV and the movies, but once it had been novel. Once Benton had been the pioneer, the creator of a better way of understanding humans who were truly psychotic, or remorseless and evil.

There was no leader of a church, for Benton had not gone since I had known him, only a Presbyterian chaplain who had counseled agents in distress. His name was Judson Lloyd, and he was frail with only a faint new moon of white hair. Reverend Lloyd wore a clerical collar and carried a small black leather Bible. There were fewer than twenty of us gathered on the shore.

We had no music or flowers, no eulogies or notes in our heads, for Benton had made it clear in his will what he wanted done. He had left me in charge of his mortal remains, because as he had drafted himself, lt is what you are so good at, Kay. I know you will guard my wishes well.

He had desired no ceremony. He had not wanted the military burial he was entitled to, no police cars leading the way, no gun salutes or flag-draped casket. His simple request was to be cremated and scattered over the place he loved best, the civilized Never-Never-Land of Hilton Head, where we had sequestered ourselves together whenever we could, and had forgotten for the brevity of a dream what we battled.

I would always be sorry that he had spent his last days here without me, and I would never recover from the heartless irony that I had been detained by the butchery Carrie had wrought. It had been the beginning of the end that would be Benton's end.

It was easy for me to wish I had never gotten involved in the case. But had I not, someone else would be attending a funeral somewhere in the world, as others had in the past, and the violence would not have stopped. Rain began to fall lightly. It touched my face like cool, sad hands.

'Benton brought us together here this day not to say goodbye,' began Reverend Lloyd. 'He wanted us to gather strength from each other and go on doing what he had done. Upholding good and condemning bad, fighting for the fallen and holding it all inside, suffering the horrors alone because he would not bruise the gentle souls of others. He left the world better than he found it. He left us better than he found us. My friends, go do as he had done.'

He opened his Bible to the New Testament.

'And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,' he read.

I felt hot and arid inside and could not stop the tears. I dabbed my eyes with tissues and stared down at the sand dusting the toes of my black suede shoes. Reverend Lloyd touched a fingertip to his lips and voiced more verses from Galatians, or was it Timothy?

I was vague about what he said. His words became a continuous stream, like water flowing in a brook, and I could not make out the meaning as I fought and blocked images that without fail won. Mostly I remembered Benton in his red windbreaker, standing out and staring at the river when he was hurt by me. I would have given the world to take back every harsh word. Yet he had understood. I knew he had.

I remembered his clean profile and the imperviousness of his face when he was with people other than me. Perhaps they found him cold, when in fact his was a shell around a kind and tender life. I wondered if we had married if I would feel any different now. I wondered if my independence had been born of a seminal insecurity. I wondered if I had been wrong.

'Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,' the reverend was preaching.

I felt the air stir behind me as I stared at a sluggish, depressed sea. Then Sparkes was next to me, our arms barely touching. His gaze was straight ahead, his jaw strong and resolute as he stood so straight in his dark suit. He turned to me and offered eyes of great sympathy. I nodded slightly.

'Our friend wanted peace and goodness.' Reverend Lloyd had turned to another book. 'He wanted the harmony the victims he championed never had. He wanted to be free of outrage and sorrow, unfettered by anger and his dreamless nights of dread.'

I heard the blades in the distance, the thudding that would forever be the noise of my niece. I looked up, and the sun barely shone behind clouds that danced the dance of veils, sliding endlessly, never fully exposing what we longed to see. Blue shown through, fragmented and brilliant like stained glass over the horizon to the west of us, and the dune at our backs was lit up as the troops of bad weather began to mutiny. The sound of the helicopter got louder, and I looked back over palms and pines, spotting it with nose slightly down as it flew lower.

'I will therefore ask that people pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting,' the reverend went on.

Benton's ashes were in the small brass urn I held in my hands.

'Let us pray.'

Lucy began her glide slope over trees, the chop-chop hard air against the ear. Sparkes leaned close to speak to me, and I could not hear, but the closeness of his face was kind.

Reverend Lloyd continued to pray, but all of us were no longer capable of or interested in a petition to the Almighty. Lucy held the JetRanger in a low hover beyond the shore, and spray flew up from her wind on the water.

I could see her eyes fixed on me through the chin bubble, and I gathered my splintered spirit into a core. I walked forward into her storm of turbulent air as the reverend held on to his barely present hair. I waded out into the water.

'God bless you, Benton. Rest your soul. I miss you, Benton,' I said words no one else could hear.

I opened the urn and looked up at my niece who was there to create the energy he had wanted when it was his time to move on. I nodded at Lucy and she gave me a thumbs-up that rent my heart and let loose more tears. Ashes were like silk, and I felt his bits of chalky bone as I dug in and held him in my hand. I flung him into the wind. I gave him back to the higher order he would have made, had it been possible.


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