In the morning, he took the train back, and if he lifted his head from the newspaper when anyone came down the aisle, it was a reflex only. The rails thumped beneath him with a pulverizing regularity that seemed to work so deeply inside him it was as if he were being eviscerated with each thrust of the wheels. His breath fogged the window. He tried Tom McNeil’s novel again and again it put him to sleep. Back at home, Caroline seemed to find the whole business hilarious and he just couldn’t summon the strength to give her the hard truth of it. Still, she did warm to him when they went out to Eladio and blew the $250 honorarium on abalone flown in from California, Kobe beef and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec chilled to perfection. Two days later he learned from the newspaper that the boy’s name was Efraín Silva and that he’d wandered away from his mother at the Home Depot in Amherst and was now reunited with her, though there seemed to be some question regarding her legal status, which had come to light only because of her going to the police. As for the abductor, the big man in the pressed pants and checked jacket, he was still at large, and whether he was Russian or Croatian or Fijian for that matter, no one knew. No one knew his name either. All they knew was what he’d done to the boy and where he’d done it and they knew too that he’d do it again to some other boy in some other place.
If Riley felt a vague unease in the coming days, he chalked it up to the cold he seemed to have caught somewhere along the line. And when the next invitation came—from Kipper College of the Dunes in Kipper, Oregon, informing him that he was one of three finalists for the Evergreen Award in Creative Literature for his novel Magpie of the Farm—he didn’t show it to Caroline or anyone else. He just went in through the house to the fireplace, stacked up the kindling there and used the creamy soft vellum to guide the flame of the match into the very heart of the fire.