It’s autumn now on Danny’s well-tended block in West Babylon. Yellow and red leaves drop from the trees and onto the lawns and are quickly raked and bagged. The camper is parked in the driveway. Halloween had crept up. Danny intended to do up the house with lights and blow-up pumpkins, just as Diane would have, and he and Bryan did some, but there were other pressing matters. Bryan’s home from the hospital. Danny’s taken time from work to be with him and deal with the teachers and doctors, friends and family, who troop in and out. Bryan’s broken arms and leg are healed. But he’s still dizzy sometimes. And every time he hears a siren, he’s terrified. For a while, he wore an eye patch. “Why?” asked one of his playmates. “I had an accident,” he said. He doesn’t remember what happened in the car, Danny says.
Danny has agreed to meet me a second time on condition that, as Barbara makes clear, this is the last of it. Danny’s angry with me, not personally, perhaps, but with the endless questions of people like me and the suspicions they can’t mask. We meet again in Barbara’s office.
“Do you ever wonder if there was anything you could have done differently?” I want to know if Danny feels guilty in some general way, for inattention or absence or anything. But Danny, always specific, focuses on that fateful morning.
“Absolutely not,” Danny says. “I gave her a hug and a kiss.”
Danny’s life is hollowed out. He’s lost his little girl and his wife, the boss who didn’t trouble him with the details. His sense of financial well-being is gone, too. “I’m worried about money now,” says Danny, whose take-home barely covers mortgage payments.
“When you search your mind, is there anything you think you might have not known about her?”
“No,” he tells me. “Outstanding relationship. I’ll never find another woman like her.” Admit one flaw, even a minor one, and everything falls apart. I ask Danny if she ever honked her horn. Never, he says.
Danny had confided to Ruskin that his relationship with Diane had ups and downs, but insisted it was a good relationship and recently was in an up.
Now Danny tells me, “There were never any downs. Up for twelve years.”
How well did Danny really know Diane?
“She’d talk to me if things came up,” he says.
“The house needs painting, the gutters need to be cleaned.”
Danny is hunched forward, a defensive pose. He tells me he’s been awake since two this morning. The grief is crushing, and maybe the guilt too. For a dozen years, he got home after Diane was in bed. Now she haunts his sleep. He wants to talk to her in the middle of the night. “I miss you,” he would tell her. “I love you.”
What keeps him up at night? I ask.
“My daughter, my wife. Moving forward, finishing this, solving it. The truth is out there,” he tells me.
Danny has finally raised the money to retest the samples of Diane’s fluids and tissue held by the medical examiner—not quite $10,000. Maybe the medical examiner mixed up the test tubes, which the medical examiner tells me is ridiculous. It’s the language of CSI, those captivating TV procedurals in which they always get their man.
“What will it take to get Danny to accept that Diane was under the influence?” I ask Ruskin.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” says Ruskin, who doesn’t accept it either.
I ask Danny about his efforts to uncover more evidence. It won’t bring them back.
“What would you do if your daughter died, and you know for a fact their mother was outstanding?” he asks me sharply.
The day before, he’d taken Bryan to the cemetery to see his mother’s and sister Erin’s graves for the first time. “We talked a lot, you know,” Danny tells me. He cries a little. “What do you say to him? What do you say to a 5-year-old?”
You say that Mommy was a good mommy, an outstanding mommy, and you promise not to rest until you prove it.