pauseâever so slightâfrom Will before he said, âAbsolutely.â
He was lying. Zoey knew she wasnât going to get the truth by just asking, so instead she said, âAnd we have no idea why he designated my brain as the key instead of yours, or hers, orÂ â¦ literally anyone elseâs??â
Will shook his head and said, âTrust me, no one is more surprised than we are. In fact, as far as we know this is your first visit, so weâre not even clear how the vault can be set with your brainâs imprint if he never brought you in to let it scan you.â
Zoey started to say, âI have no ideaâ¦â but trailed off halfway through, when a memory suddenly popped into her head. âIn the fall my mom made a doctorâs appointment for me, she said it was something they had to do for the life insurance. But it was weird, they put me in something like an MRI machine and I was in there for a solid hour. They told me they were checking for early Alzheimerâs or something, butÂ â¦ I donât know. It seemed fishy. Like they wouldnât answer direct questions. Could Arthur have arranged that?â
Echo glanced at Will and said, âWell, thereâs one mystery solved.â
Will asked, âAnd how long ago was this?â
âSeptember, early October, around there.â
Glances. Traces of confusion and alarm. This was a bombshell, apparently. Zoey tried to think of why, then it occurred to her that this meant she wasnât here due to some drunken last-minute decision or a mix up with the vaultâs programming. Her father had planned all of this months in advanceâin other words, he had known he was going to die. Or at least, he was making preparations for the eventuality. And no one in this room had known.
Echo shook her head and muttered to Will, âI keep imagining him up there, laughing at us while we scrambled around the country trying to figure out exactly which trailer park he spilled his DNA in.â
Budd adjusted his cowboy hat and said, ââUp thereâ? Echo, I donât know exactly what religion you believe in that has Arthur Livingston makinâ it to Heaven, but I reckon I wanna join.â
Andre said, âEh, probably just bribed his way in.â
Will, raising his voice to cut off the banter, said, âIt doesnât matter. The daughterâs here, letâs get this over with.â
The daughter . Zoey realized he had already forgotten her name. She sniffed, wiped her nose with her sleeve and took a drink from her water glass. She glanced around the roomâa wreath on every wall. The stuffed and mounted buffalo, wearing its stupid Santa hat and beard. Yet another Christmas tree in the corner. Zoey and her mom had a plastic artificial tree they put together every year. It had a bare spot where two of the branches had broken off, so they had to keep that part facing the corner. Her estranged father, she observed, apparently had a real tree in every room. Zoey suddenly realized that her yearly salary would not even pay to decorate this place for Christmas, and that her entire trailer wasnât big enough to serve as off-season storage for all of the ornaments, lights, and holiday tchotchkes that encrusted the walls of this place.
Once, as a teenager, she had spent all of Thanksgiving and Christmas with a cracked tooth. She endured the throbbing molar for six weeks, due to the wait list to get into a dentist that accepted Medicaid. Every day at work with this pain stabbing like a shard of glass when she bit down on anything harder than pudding. The cost of one bottle of whatever scotch these people were drinking would have paid for her appointment. And now, here were Arthur Livingstonâs people, in suits that could probably put her through college, looking at her like she was a muddy dog running through their wedding reception. Her ears were getting hot. She pulled off her cap and shook her