A contemporary family saga dealing with the issue of death with dignity/assisted dying and set in California's beautiful Napa and Marin counties.
Who does your life belong to, anyway? You, your family, the government, or God? Miles Milner, his girlfriend, Colleen, and his brother, Mel, confront all these questions by walking a slippery line between personal ethics and the law.
But events really ramp up when the police find Mel’s body and a suicide note under dubious circumstances, with Miles treated and two of Mel’s friends treated as suspects.
The resulting cloud brings in Mel’s embittered ex-wife and their two grown sons, and when his will confirms that Gina, Mel’s girlfriend, Miles’ son Jason, and Miles himself are the only heirs, his ex goes ballistic and pressures the DA for a murder indictment. Miles, meanwhile, remains haunted by his wife’s death from cancer five years earlier.
Part family saga, part love story, medical drama and legal dilemma, What You Wish For is a novel that pulls you in and doesn’t let go.
For the tenth or twelfth time, he checked his monitor’s bottom corner: Monday, June 14, 10:23 AM. At least he was on countdown, but binary clocks tended to drift and his cell might have a better fix. Just as he reached to flip it open, the intro to Sheep May Safely Graze sounded. His ringtone. Unknown Caller flashed on the dis-play. Simultaneously, his landline also rang, but louder. Letting the cell go to voice mail, he steeled himself and picked up the landline. Logic argued for that as the one.
“Hello,” he said, desperate to keep his throbbing veins out of his voice.
“Am I speaking to Mr. Milner…Mr. Miles Milner?”
“Yes.” His mind had played out dozens of times how the first call needed to go.
“This is Sergeant Schramm, Calistoga police. I’m sorry, sir, but there’s bad news.”
“My brother? He’s been arrested or something?”
“No, sir, a lot worse. He’s dead.”
“What! Oh, god, that damn sports car!”
“No, sir, he was found in his living room. His plumber called us this morning. Looks like a drug overdose.”
“That’s crazy. Mel drank, but he’d didn’t use drugs.”
“We’re thinking suicide, sir. There was a note, and your phone number was in it.”
“That can’t be. I was with him yesterday.” Miles’ right leg be-gan to dance uncontrollably beneath his desk.
“Until what time, sir?”
“Say four o’clock. He was fine then, but had gotten a scary medical diagnosis. It was his birthday.”
“We know that, sir, from his driver’s license. How soon can you get back over here?”
“Immediately…pretty much. By 12:30 or one.”
“Come to the city hall basement and ask for Pete Schramm. Your brother’s body’ll be at a funeral home till we take you to iden-tify him. There’s a few other details I’d rather discuss in person. Again, I’m sorry, sir. I hate putting you through this.”
“No, no, you have a job to do. I’m just glad I was home to get the call…but I am in shock.”
“That’s understandable, sir. Quite a few folks say your brother was a great guy.”
Miles hung up, remaining at his desk to quiet his leg and gather himself. It was game-on now, and they wanted him right away. There were Calistoga people to make the ID, but family was un-doubtedly better. As for the officer’s “other details,” Miles had a strong sense of what those were. He’d even expected this, objec-tively, but the feelings unleashed when it was real you couldn’t pre-pare for. Then there was the cell call. From who? He picked up his phone and menued to voice mail.
“Mr. Milner, Geoff Badger here. You don’t know me, but it’s something important about your brother. Call 707-991-4652 ASAP.”
OK, this guy had to be taken care of too. When a husky voice answered, Miles introduced himself.
“Yeah, hi,” came the response. “This is Geoff, but listen…”
“Let me interrupt a second. I just got off the line with the Calis-toga Police.”
“Jeez, then you know. Makes it easier on my end, but I’m sorry as hell. He was just the top of the heap.”
“Thanks. I’ll beat out everybody for sorry once it truly hits me, but I’m in shock.”
“Same with me.”
“Was it you that found him? You’re the handyman, right?”
“Yeah. I helped him on lotsa’ stuff. You know how his key’s under the back doormat? Well, I was on to do some plumbing and let myself in. Called his name a couple of times, then saw him from be-hind in his chair, sort of in shadow. When I got closer, holy shit! Yo, pardon my French.”
“Don’t worry about it. What next, 9-1-1?”
“No, the cops…on my cell so I wouldn’t touch anything. I mean he was obviously dead, but in a creepy way.”
“Tough to be first on the scene.” Miles’ leg again started to dance.
“I was with the Marines in Lebanon,” Geoff said. “This isn’t my one and only. How much you want to know?”
“According to Schramm, the police guy, it was a drug over-dose.”
“Can’t say on that. I saw a little bottle on the table, and what looked like a note.”
“How do you mean creepy?”
“You really want me to tell you?”
“Yeah. The cops will anyway. They said get there quick as I could.”
“OK…well, there was a plastic bag over his head that you could see through, and something running along his neck, where the bag was drawn up snug. Freaked me out.”
“Whoa! That is bad.”
“Still glad you asked?” Geoff said.
“The cops think suicide, because of the note. That’s where they found my number.” Miles had reined in his leg, but the shudder in his lungs could probably be heard.
“He gave me your cell a while back,” Geoff went on. “If he was travelling and anything went screwy at his place, you were the con-tact. He flat refused to get a cell of his own.”
“Don’t I know.”
“I really wonder about suicide, though.”
“The way the bag fit onto him. I don’t see how a guy does such a neat job on his own.”
“What are you saying then?”
“It could be murder.”
“Oh, man! Good thing I’m sitting down.”
“That’s why I thought we should talk. I wouldn’t have gotten this much into it if the cops hadn’t already called, or if you hadn’t pressed me, but I really thought I should say something.”
“Was any stuff knocked over…you know, like a struggle?”
“Not that I noticed.”
“Did the cops take a statement from you?”
“Not yet. Not officially. But they’ll be on me for one.”
“Yeah, same here, but I won’t say we talked unless they specifi-cally ask. And please, don’t let this murder thing fly all over town.”
“If they ask whether we talked, they’ll get a straight answer. If they don’t, it won’t come up, but either way, the plastic bag is just between you and me. I mean, the cops’ve already seen it, and I’m not telling anyone else. The only way that goes public is if you or the law put it out.”
“Mainly, you should know in case anybody tries short-cuts. Pete Schramm’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, and more could be go-ing on than he wants to deal with.”
“I really appreciate this, Geoff. Really. I’ll be sure they check all the angles. Too bad we didn’t have a chance to meet while Mel was alive. He thought highly of you.”
“It’s mutual. Got started when I did a roof repair, next thing I’m coming by to share beers on the porch, then I’m invited to his poker group. He was one funny son-of-a-bitch.”
“Yeah, very. He was sick, though, you know?”
“Sorry, I didn’t. Bad sick?”
“Pretty ugly…which points to suicide.”
“Fuck! Cancer, I guess. Had he talked about offing himself?”
“Not really. Not in so many words. I just can’t figure anybody would kill him.”
“No, I can’t either, but I know what I saw.”
“I’ll hang on to your number…in case we need to talk again. Or you dial me.”
When the call ended, it took Miles two attempts before getting the receiver steady enough to fit in the cradle. Numbly, he dropped his wallet and other necessaries into his pockets, checked himself in the mirror and locked the door. Today he’d drive Beth’s Nissan, not the bike, and come across as strictly the sober, responsible type.