Hold Tight

By: Harlan Coben

1

MARIANNE nursed her third shot of Cuervo, marveling at her endless capacity to destroy any good in her pathetic life, when the man next to her shouted, “Listen up, sweetcakes: Creationism and evolution are totally compatible.”

His spittle landed on Marianne’s neck. She made a face and shot the man a quick glance. He had a big bushy mustache straight out of a seventies porn flick. He sat on her right. The overbleached blonde with brittle hair of straw he was trying to impress with this stimulating banter was on her left. Marianne was the unlucky luncheon meat in their bad-pickup sandwich.

She tried to ignore them. She peered into her glass as if it were a diamond she was sizing up for an engagement ring. Marianne hoped that it would make the mustache man and straw-haired woman disappear. It didn’t.

“You’re crazy,” Straw Hair said.

“Hear me out.”

“Okay, I’ll listen. But I think you’re crazy.”

Marianne said, “Would you like to switch stools, so you can be next to one another?”

Mustache put a hand on her arm. “Just hold on, little lady, I want you to hear this too.”

Marianne was going to protest, but it might be easier not to. She turned back to her drink.

“Okay,” Mustache said, “you know about Adam and Eve, right?”

“Sure,” Straw Hair said.

“You buy that story?”

“The one where he was the first man and she was the first woman?”

“Right.”

“Hell, no. You do?”

“Yes, of course.” He petted his mustache as if it were a small rodent that needed calming. “The Bible tells us that’s what happened. First came Adam, then Eve was formed out of his rib.”

Marianne drank. She drank for many reasons. Most of the time it was to party. She had been in too many places like this, looking to hook up and hoping it would come to more. Tonight, though, the idea of leaving with a man held no interest. She was drinking to numb and damn it if it wasn’t working. The mindless chatter, once she let go, was distracting. Lessened the pain.

She had messed up.

As usual.

Her entire life had been a sprint away from anything righteous and decent, looking for the next unobtainable fix, a perpetual state of boredom punctuated by pathetic highs. She’d destroyed something good and now that she’d tried to get it back, well, Marianne had screwed that up too.

In the past, she had hurt those closest to her. That was her exclusive club of whom to emotionally maim—those she loved most. But now, thanks to her recent blend of idiocy and selfishness, she could add total strangers to the list of victims of the Marianne Massacre.

For some reason, hurting strangers seemed worse. We all hurt those we love, don’t we? But it was bad karma to hurt the innocent.

Marianne had destroyed a life. Maybe more than one.

For what?

To protect her child. That was what she’d thought.

Dumb ass.

“Okay,” Mustache said, “Adam begot Eve or whatever the hell the term was.”

“Sexist crap,” Straw Hair said.

“But the word of God.”

“Which has been proven wrong by science.”

“Now just wait, pretty lady. Hear me out.” He held up his right hand. “We have Adam”—then he held up his left—“and we have Eve. We have the Garden of Eden, right?”

“Right.”

“So Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. And then Abel kills Cain.”

“Cain kills Abel,” Straw Hair corrected.

“You sure?” He frowned, thinking about it. Then he shook it off. “Look, whatever. One of them dies.”

“Abel dies. Cain kills him.”

“You’re sure?”

Straw Hair nodded.

“Okay, that leaves us with Cain. So the question is, who did Cain reproduce with? I mean, the only other available woman is Eve and she’s getting on in years. So how did mankind continue to survive?”

Mustache stopped, as if waiting for applause. Marianne rolled her eyes.

“Do you see the dilemma?”

“Maybe Eve had another kid. A girl.”

“So he had sex with his sister?” Mustache asked.

“Sure. In those days, everyone did everyone, didn’t they? I mean, Adam and Eve were the first. There had to be some early incest.”

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