The day before his divorce became final, Damon Pierce sent an e-mail to a friend, a woman he cared for deeply, the one who had chosen another man and another life.
Pierce was alone at Sea Ranch on the last weekend before the house became Amy’s, contemplating the rugged California coastline and what his own life had brought him. Now it was early evening, and the sun slowly setting over the cobalt-blue Pacific was so bright that Pierce squinted at the screen. Despite this, he composed his words with care: he had met her in a creative writing class and, even now, their exchanges strove to capture events in a way the other would appreciate and make a good-natured effort to surpass. It was a plea sure that Amy, far more literal and less romantic, had never understood; still less did she appreciate that this complex blend of admiration and remembered attraction, surviving time and distance, had come to hold a mirror to their marriage.
His e-mail reflected his mood, the ironic yet sober assessment of a man on the cusp of midlife—a partner in a ffteen-hundred-lawyer megafirm caught between an increasingly thwarted professional desire to do good and a former blue-collar boy’s appreciation of fine dining, good wine, and travel undreamed of in his youth. Among Pierce’s specialties was complex international litigation, in which he enjoyed a considerable reputation; as he had told his correspondent several years ago, "not everyone has put away for life the murderous president of a former Balkan rump state."
Perhaps this experience as a war crimes prosecutor, the clearest expression of his still flickering idealism, reflected his admiration for her commitment to others, the harder choices she had made. But his work in Kosovo was now years in the past. For Pierce, the chief residue of this time was the several hundred dead men, women, and children—the defendant’s victims—on whom the world’s attention had focused far too late, and whose images still came to him in dreams.
"Since returning to the firm," he wrote now, "my practice has become more or less what you predicted. My principal clients are investment bankers and tarnished corporate titans staring at a stretch in prison for ambitions that exceeded the law. Some strike me as almost tragic; others as loathsome. A few are even innocent. Many of them I like—it’s me I wonder about. Often I remember what Charlie Hale, my best friend at the firm, said after our first week as associates: ‘Damon, my boy, us two will do well here. In ten years, we’ll be partners; in twenty we’ll have more money than time; in forty we’ll be looking back at our careers. And after that . . . ,’ he finished with a sardonic grin, ‘there’s only one big move left.’
"Charlie, however, has a nice wife and three bright-eyed daughters he adores.
"As for me, I have a condominium with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and sufficient cash to indulge in pleasures you might think superfluous. But remember that when we met I was mired in student loans; compared to me you were born to have a restless conscience, and to act on it. Still, I question myself every time I imagine you asking, ‘Is this a life of meaning?’ Then I imagine the conveyor belt of life leading straight to my premature demise, keeling over at my desk on another weekend of too much work for no great cause. Perhaps that’s why I spend so much time at the gym."
Pierce paused there. Any fair external inventory would count him lucky: he was even fitter than when they had last seen each other, and the twelve years since had lent a keenness to his face without thinning or graying his dark shock of hair, leaving the Damon Pierce of the courtroom a still youthful but commanding presence, tall and slim and quick of tongue and mind. "Nevertheless," his e-mail conceded, "my career thrives more each year. And I arm myself for Judgment Day by giving pro bono advice in international human rights cases, a faint echo of my time at The Hague.
"As for my former literary ambitions, the only real writing I do is to you.
"Which brings me, I suppose, to Amy.
"We’re divorcing. It’s really not her fault. The most critical thing I can say is that Amy never questions her life. If her client is a crook, he just is. My tendency to ponder the meaning of it all strikes her as a waste of time.
"Why did we marry? To begin, Amy’s a gorgeous strawberry-blonde, so tall and elegant that she looks more like a ballerina than a lawyer. And wicked smart—smart and beautiful, you’ll recall, tends to get my attention. Amy is also the most self-possessed person I know, so that even her bursts of anger seem less spontaneous than chosen. The same spartan discipline governs her exercise and diet: at thirty-five, she remains so youthful that I once teased her that when she dies at ninety, they’ll have to cut off her leg and count the rings to figure out how old she was. She had the grace to find that funny—of course, she herself is often funny in a matter-of-fact observer’s sort of way. A lawyer’s way.
"But then we lived like lawyers. Every Saturday we sat at breakfast and updated our professional and social calendars for the next four weeks. Our conversations were like telegrams—no words wasted. For two trial lawyers, time is always a problem, and there was never enough.
"The question became, For what?
"Expensive dinners alone. Vacations in Fiji. More expensive dinners with other childless couples who trumped Fiji with Montenegro. Fund-raisers for abortion rights or battered women or the Democratic candidate for what ever. Comparisons of trial tactics: Amy was so delighted with the exercise of her considerable skills that I once told her she would have cheerfully represented Martin Bormann. ‘Only for the cause,’ she retorted, a slight dig at my pro bono work. Her most grotesque clients became her babies.
"There it is. I wanted them; Amy didn’t.
"Not her problem, but mine. Amy has no illusions, least about herself: that she never wanted kids was just a fact, and Amy never fudged facts. But as you so often suggested, I’m a bit of a romantic, and sometimes still believe that I can make life, even people, turn out as I hoped. And what I hoped for was two small Pierces.
"A couple of years ago, I realized that I was the only one who heard Amy’s reproductive clock ticking. When I said as much, she countered me with jaundiced humor: ‘Have you checked out your partners’ lives postchild?’ she asked. ‘Moving to the dullest suburb for the "best schools"; planning car pools and sleepovers and after-school enrichment programs; going to parent-teacher conferences and obsessing about how to propel their obviously sociopathic seven-year-old toward Stanford Medical School, until their only friends are the other lobotomized couples whose only subject is "the kids"—’
" ‘Beats hearing about Montenegro,’ I interrupted. ‘Somewhere during that last dinner, I realized Chris and Martha are the biggest waste of time since reality TV.’ Suddenly I became serious. ‘Amy,’ I said slowly but clearly, ‘just loving you is not enough.’
"For a long time she just looked at me. ‘It might be,’ she answered, ‘if you still did.’
"All at once I realized how good she was at stating facts.
"That fact, once she brought it to my attention, was fatal. I may not be as surgical as Amy, but I’m no more inclined than she to lie about what I know. I had stopped loving the Amy Riordan I had married, and the life she had never questioned. Only the distraction of our work had allowed us to drift apart with our eyes shut, not seeing what Amy now saw so clearly with those beautiful blue eyes—which, for once, were filled with tears."
Pierce paused. There was more he might have said—not just that Amy and he were different but that the difference between his wife and the woman to whom he was writing had grown in Pierce’s mind. He knew this was unfair: he had taken Amy on her terms, and it was not right to compare her to a woman whose path in life was driven not just by her virtues but by her scars. Nor could he fully explain, to this woman or himself, how much he valued their ongoing connection amid the deterioration of his married life. It was best, he concluded, to stick to that life itself.
"Our decision to divorce was sad," Pierce continued. "But it was this hollow quality that makes me the saddest now. We’re lucky, friends tell us, that we have no children to pay for our own failure. Still, without kids or money to fight over, there is too little to keep us from drifting ever further apart, until we become again the strangers we once were. The saddest fact is this: when the first of us dies, the survivor will likely learn of it, if at all, by reading the obituary page.
"Sorry. It’s the black Irish in me, and this St. Patrick’s Day I turned forty. As you’re not divorcing, certainly not Irish, and only thirty-six at that, I hope you’ll forgive this side trip into morbidity." After rereading this passage, Pierce added, "In truth, the con-fluence of divorce and a major birthday may be God’s wake-up call. My work at The Hague, however hard, was about something of fundamental importance—vindicating human rights through law. Though leading the prosecution team wasn’t easy, I think I was at my best, and I never doubted the worth of what I did. So it seems I’ve got some things to think about, and the freedom to do so. Perhaps, in its way, that’s not so bad a birthday gift."
This was a good place to end, he thought. "Tell me how you are," he concluded. "From what I read and hear, I worry that I haven’t heard from you lately. And you still write a pretty good sentence.
Pierce sent the e-mail. When he looked out the window again, still pensive, the sun was an orange sliver descending beneath the blue-gray line of the ocean. He went to the kitchen, poured himself a chill glass of Chassagne-Montrachet, and made himself dinner.
Two hours later, as he returned to his computer, an e-mail appeared. Opening it, he found himself staring at its first sentence.
"Seven nights ago," Marissa began, "I saw the corpses of three oil workers hanging from a tree."
Excerpted from Eclipse by Richard North Patterson.
Copyright 2009 by Richard North Patterson.
Published in January 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON is the author of Exile, The Race, and thirteen other bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. Formerly a trial lawyer, he was the SEC liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor and has served on the boards of several Washington advocacy groups. He lives in San Francisco and on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, Dr. Nancy Clair.