Wilde Lake - Laura Lippman Page 0,1

“is to uphold the laws of this state.”

“Are you going to forbid me to go?”

“No. You can go. And you can stay out. But I urge you to obey the laws, AJ. Whatever you do, I’m going to trust you to use common sense. You must understand that there will be no special treatment if you get in trouble.”

“There never has been,” AJ said.

Through no fault of his own, AJ ended up obeying the letter of the law. He spent most of the night in the ER at Howard County Hospital, where they did take his blood to test for alcohol and drugs, come to think of it. PCP was a big concern at the time. They probably thought my brother had superhuman strength, given what he had done. But he had managed only a sip of beer before the trouble started.

The night had begun in the auditorium of Wilde Lake High School. With more than three hundred kids graduating, the seniors had been given only two tickets, a hardship for other households but not ours, with only our father and me. And I would have gladly given away my ticket, if I had been allowed. I fell asleep at least three times. The speaker began by informing the students that no one would remember who spoke at this graduation and I think he got that right. He joked that they were already celebrities—as freshmen, this future college Class of 1984 had been photographed for a cover story in Life magazine; AJ and his friends were front and center in the photo. Then there was that endless roll call of names, drawn out by parents who ignored the edict not to clap or cheer for individual students. AJ got the most applause, but not from my father or me, sticklers that we were for rules.

When it finally ended, we shook AJ’s hand and went home with his folded cap and gown. AJ headed out with his gang, a mixed group in every sense of the word—boys and girls, white and black and Asian, theater geeks and jocks. AJ was the glue, the person who had brought them all together—a good athlete, a gifted singer and actor, an outstanding student. Davey and Bash were also big-deal athletes, with Davey exciting the interest of professional baseball scouts, although he was determined to get a college degree first. Lynne could have been an Olympic-caliber gymnast, but she was lazy, content to settle for being the star of the varsity cheerleading squad. Ariel and Noel got the juiciest parts in school plays. Not necessarily the leads, but the roles that allowed them to give the showiest, most memorable performances. AJ was going to Yale, our father’s alma mater. Davey had a scholarship to Stanford. Noel and Ariel were headed to Northwestern, Lynne was bound for Penn State, and Bash had surprised everyone by getting a National Merit scholarship, which he was using to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, where he had no intention of playing a sport. They had so much to celebrate. They popped the tops of their first beers, pleased with themselves, and toasted. “Life is a banquet,” Ariel drawled, quoting a line from Mame, which had been the school musical. (She had been Agnes Gooch, not Mame, but she upstaged the leads.) “And most poor sons of bitches—”

It was then that the Flood brothers pulled into the parking lot.

“It happened so quickly,” AJ would say whenever he had to tell the story. He had to tell it a lot that summer. He and his friends didn’t perceive the Flood brothers as a threat, merely out of place in a throng of high school students. The Flood brothers had a reputation for scrapping, but they weren’t scary. Only their dad was scary. They weren’t that much older than the partying kids at Wilde Lake, and they didn’t even look that different. They could have easily passed for members of the school’s gentle stoner crowd, with their work boots and Levi’s and blue denim shirts. But there was nothing gentle about the Floods, and neither one had known a graduation night. Every Flood boy, seven in all, had dropped out of school after turning sixteen.

These two, the youngest, got out of their beat-up old car, looked sneeringly at the high school students, then homed in on Davey, easy to find in any crowd—six feet five inches and one of the darkest black men I had ever seen in my life. Just that