I nursed a Coke at the bar while he chatted with a woman who looked too chubby to be a working girl, but who, dressed and made up as she was, could hardly be anything else. She was an overstuffed kewpie doll fresh out of a Stephen King novel, but any sense of malevolence was dispelled by her obvious jollity. She laughed with good humor, and at the conclusion of the interview she stood up, leaned over, and kissed Danny Boy smack on the mouth. She laughed again and strode out of the place, and when she passed me I got a whiff of her perfume. It was as demure and understated as everything else about her.

When I got to his table Danny Boy was dipping a white handkerchief in vodka and wiping his lips with it. "Becky has a lovely mouth," he said, "but God only knows where it's been. It's good to see you, Matthew. It's been too long."

"Time flies," I said.

"When you're having fun," he said, "and also when you're not." He cocked his head, looked me over. "You're looking well," he announced. "Sobriety evidently agrees with you. I can't think it would agree with me."

He put his handkerchief away and took a big sip of vodka, churning it in his mouth like Listerine, then swallowing it down. "Germs," he explained, "though I'm sure she tidies up after every little adventure. Still, better safe than sorry." At both Mother Blue's and Poogan's they leave the bottle for him, and he took it from the ice bucket and filled his glass. "The only thing wrong with your sobriety," he said, "is you don't get to the bars as often."

"I'm turning into a homebody," I said.

"And how is the fair Elaine?"

"Fine. She sends her love."

"And give her mine." He picked up his glass, took a sip. He could still drink like a man twice his size and half his age. They say in the rooms of AA that it's just a question of time, that nobody gets away with it forever, but I'm not sure they're right. Some friends of mine seem to do just fine.

He swallowed and closed his eyes for a moment, and I could just about feel the drink going down. He opened his eyes and said, "I'd miss it," to himself as much as to me, and thought about that for a moment. Then his eyes found mine and he said, "Well, Matthew? What brings you here?"

When I got home Elaine was in the living room, reading a Susan Isaacs novel and drinking a cup of tea. She was barefoot and wore a silk robe that left a lot of her uncovered. I looked her over and made some appreciative noises, and she told me that men are swine. "It says so right here," she said, and tapped the book. "How's Danny Boy?"

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"The same. He sends love."

"That's sweet. Michael called."

"Michael?"

"Your son."

"He never calls," I said, remembering the last call I'd had from him. "What did he want?"

"He must have called while we were at the concert. The message was on the machine when I got home. He wants you to call him, and he left a number. His cell phone, I think he said. The message is still on the machine."

I went and played it. Without preamble he said, "Dad, it's Michael. Could you give me a call? Anytime, it doesn't matter. I don't know where I'll be, so call me on my cell phone…"

I jotted down the number and went back to the living room. "Whatever it is," I said, "you don't get a clue from his tone of voice, do you? It's perfectly neutral."

"There's probably an easy way to find out what he wants."

"It's almost midnight."

"Which is what, nine in California?"

"If that's where he is."

"If he's in Paris," she said, "it's six in the morning."

"Wherever you go," I said, "it's always sometime. All I have to do is pick up the fucking phone, but I don't seem to want to."

"I know. But it might be good news, honey. Maybe June's expecting another baby."

"I don't think that's it," I said, "and I don't think it's good news. But whatever it is, I might as well hear about it."

"Dad," he said. "Thanks for calling back. Listen, are you at home? The number I called before?"

"Sure, but- "

"Let me call you back. I'm getting an echo on this piece of crap."

He broke the connection, and I hung up myself and waited for the phone to ring. I suppose I ought to have a cell phone, but there's not a day goes by that I'm not glad I don't.

Elaine said, "What happened?" and I was starting to tell her when the phone rang.

"Sorry," he said. "Listen, did Andy call you?"

"No," I said. "Why?"

"I didn't think he would. He said he wasn't going to, but I thought he might have changed his mind. But I guess he didn't."

"Michael…"

"I'm sorry, Dad. He's got himself in a mess, that's all. He wouldn't call you, and he didn't want me to call you, but I felt I had to."

"What kind of a mess?"

"There's no great way to say this. He took some money."

"Stole it, you mean?"

"Technically, yes. I don't think he thought of it that way, but when you take money from your employer that you can't pay back, I guess that's stealing."

A whole slew of questions came to mind. I reached out and picked one. "How much money?"

"Ten thousand dollars."

"From his employer."

"From the company he works for, yes."

"I don't even know who he works for," I said, "or what he does."

"They're an independent auto parts wholesaler. Andy's a sort of branch manager of the Tucson operation, services some accounts, does some back office work."

"It doesn't sound like a business that would handle much cash."

"No, it's all checks. The way he did it, I don't know the details, but he evidently set up some dummy accounts and cut company checks payable to them. Then he set up a bank account where he could deposit the checks, and wrote checks from that account and cashed them through his own account."

That's one way to do it, and it always works like a charm until they catch you.

"His boss found out, and- "

"They always do."

"I know, I can't believe he was that stupid. Anyway, his boss gave him a choice. If he pays the money back before the end of the month he'll let it go. Otherwise he'll press charges, and Andy'll go to jail."

"And ten thousand's the amount he took?"

"That's what it rounds off to, and that's what he has to pay back."

"And he called you asking for the money."

"I'm the one he calls," he said.

"This has happened before."

"Not exactly."

"Not exactly? Meaning what, it wasn't auto parts and it wasn't in Tucson?"

"It was never this serious. He calls me, I don't know, every once in a while. Once or twice a year, I guess. Whenever it's him on the phone, I know he's in some kind of a jam."

"Like what?"

"He's broke, he needs money, something didn't work out. His car died and he has to get it fixed. He borrowed money from people who break your legs if you don't pay. It's always something."

"I didn't know anything about this, Michael."

"No, I'm always the one he calls."

"And you bail him out?"

"Well, he's my brother."

"Sure."

"And, like I said, it was never this serious. It's usually a thousand dollars. Sometimes it's less, and the most it ever was was twenty-five hundred."

"He calls and you send the money. Does he ever pay you back?"

"Every once in a while I'll get a check or a money order in the mail, part of what he owes me. And he's very generous at Christmas. Since Melanie was born, there's always an expensive gift for her, at Christmas and on her birthday. But as far as how we stand, well, you don't like to keep accounts with your brother."

"But you have to know where you stand."

"Well, I keep track, you know?"

"What's he into you for?"

"Something around twelve thousand dollars."

"Twelve thousand," I said.

"I feel funny saying it. June doesn't know how much it comes to. She knows I give Andy money from time to time, but not what it adds up to."

"I had no idea. I knew he was drifting, taking his time finding himself, never staying in one place too long. But it sounds like he's a fuckup."

"He's Andy, Dad. He's charming, he's funny, everybody likes him. But yeah, I don't like to say it, but he's a fuckup."

"Where does it go, Mike? Gambling? Cocaine?"

"He was betting basketball games for a while, I remember that. But I don't think he's a serious gambler. I know he's done coke from something he said once, but just in the sense that he'll take some if he's out partying, more or less to keep going. I gather there are a lot of people who do that."

Otherwise all those other people wouldn't be getting rich selling it.

"He took the ten thousand because he had this investment opportunity. I forget what it was, some new business he could buy a half-interest in if he could come up with ten grand. As a matter of fact he called me, wanted me to invest in it. I didn't pay attention to the details because I never considered it for a minute. We don't have a lot of extra dough to invest, but when we do it goes in an index fund. No glamour there, but I like that a lot better than the idea of waking up one morning and the money's gone."

"He couldn't borrow from you, so he borrowed from his boss."

"That's how he saw it."

"And he made the investment?"

"No, the deal fell apart."

"And what happened to the money?"

"He pissed it away."

"Nice."

"He was depressed because he had high hopes, you know. He's always got high hopes. But he was down, so he got to drinking, and he decided he had to spend some money to cheer himself up. He took a girl to Cancъn, he traded his car for a new one."

"And now he pays up or goes to jail."

"That's right."

"What did you tell him?"

"Dad, I didn't know what to tell him. 'Mikey, I swear this is the last time, I learned a big lesson here.' What am I supposed to say, you're full of shit and I know you're full of shit? 'Mikey, you'll get it back.' Yeah, right. I work my ass off, June works as hard as I do, we got the kid, we got the house…"

"I know."

"Could I give him ten grand? Yes, I could. I'd have to sell some securities, take out a loan, but I could do it. Am I going to?" He paused, as if considering the question anew. "I said it was too much. I said I could manage half of that."

"What did he say?"

"That wouldn't do it. His boss told him if he presses charges, then his insurance company covers the loss. So if the guy settled for half he'd have to eat a five-thousand-dollar loss, and he's not willing to do that. Andy said if all I can send him is half I should just wire it to him, because what he'll do is take the money in cash and run with it. I told him I didn't think that was such a good idea."

"It may be the worst idea he's ever had in his life," I said, "although I'm beginning to realize that covers a lot of ground. The last thing he wants to do is make himself a fugitive from justice."