Excerpt from Absolution by Miriam Herin
Anh Dung “Billy” Nguyen came out the back door of Stern’s Drug Store, running. Three blocks up Arlington, he crossed over the Mass Turnpike to Tremont and spun into the alley behind El Rancho Grill. He stopped, dug the gun into the dumpster under wet cardboard, orange peels and something that smelled like dead salmon. Backtracking to the street, he slowed to a jog as late afternoon shadows darkened about him. He turned down Hansen to Shawmut to Waltham, racing to catch the 49 bus on Washington Street, hunkering on the back seat the distance to Lenox. He walked the five blocks to Phoc Le’s, where she let him hide in her kitchen closet behind cartons of Hue beer as she scavenged $42, borrowing the last seven from Mrs. Im on the third floor. He left Phoc Le’s in a drizzle of rain, walking south to Dudley Street, reaching his cousin Bao on his cell phone. He crouched in the unlit doorway of Mae’s Beauty Salon, shivering in the cool wet March air until the blue Camry with the crushed right fender screeched to a stop across the street. Bao beeped once, got out and ran. Two minutes later, Billy was on his way through the back streets of Roxbury to I-93, heading to Providence.
As Billy Nguyen sped south, Maggie Delaney stood by the TV in the dayroom of the Back Bay townhouse watching grainy images of American tanks speeding across the Kuwaiti border into Iraq. She turned off the TV and went to the dining room to arrange the yellow mums from Samantha’s Flowers in the Chinese vase on the sideboard. She set the table for two, expecting Richard to come through the door any moment. That Richard would not arrive, not then, not ever, retained its ability to surprise for weeks afterwards. Two months later, in May, when Billy Nguyen was living with his uncle and the uncle’s third wife in Richmond and washing cars for a Ford dealership, Maggie still glanced at the clock at 6:30. Some evenings she counted out two forks and two knives from the kitchen drawer, and when Travis was home from Wesleyan, three of each piece. On a Friday in July, while Billy Nguyen slept wedged between piles of old tires in the back of a pickup somewhere in Oklahoma, Maggie put fresh mums in the Chinese vase, as if by the magic of ritual, Richard might walk through the front door again, lay his briefcase on the hall table with a dull thud, and say one way or another what he had said most Fridays for the twenty-nine years of their marriage, “It’s good to be home, Mag.” But of course, he didn’t come. Maggie set the table for one, opened the Styrofoam box of takeout from Mario’s on Newbury and dripped tears into the lukewarm lasagna.