An Empty Grave...

Chapter 11: Rick

I took a deep breath. "Well, it took me a whole year to get it all out of Rick so it may be a little disjointed. When he was a kid Rick lived in a tiny town called Mojave, out in the desert in eastern Kern County. I don't suppose there were more than a few thousand people in the town, maybe not even that many. Anyway, Rick and his dad lived there. He said his mom had died when he was eight or nine and he'd missed her terribly. His dad was pretty strict and... well, cold was the way Rick described him."

I took a sip of my wine. Crash, who'd been dozing at my feet looked up at me, as though she knew we were talking about Rick. "When Rick first started high school he figured out that he was gay but he was way too afraid to do anything about it. His dad was some sort of church official who went into tirades about all sorts of things, including gays. Worse than that; he refused to talk about anything to do with sex and warned Rick that dirty thoughts would land him in Hell just as fast as doing dirty things."

"Jesus, why do people do things like that?" Les looked at me and smiled. "Sorry, but that sort of thing just galls me. How can people be so... Oh never mind. Go on."

"Well, when Rick was a senior he found another guy who felt the same way he did, a guy in his class. Rick said they used to go out in the desert and talk about it--sex--and even masturbated together. Then came graduation. This other boy--I don't think Rick ever told me his name--had use of the family car and they went to the ceremony together. I'm not sure but I don't think Rick's father even bothered to attend. Anyway, the two boys went to graduation together. Afterward they went out in the desert, took off their clothes and had real sex for the first time." I thought about the first time Rick told me this story. He'd said that first time was beautiful and it showed him that this was what he was made for: loving another man.

I drank some more of my wine. "They were lying together on a blanket, kissing in the afterglow of their first sex when a very bright light hit them. Rick said that he very nearly died of fright at that moment and for a long time later wished he had."

Susan took out her handkerchief and said, "That poor man. Who was it? Not his father?"

"Worse. It was a deputy sheriff. Rick thought maybe he was out there to goof off, maybe smoke a little pot and was probably behind some rocks the whole time, watching them. He made them stand up and he handcuffed them, made them walk barefoot around the rocks and put them in his car."

"Yeah," Eric said. "Some cops are like that. Go out and smoke some shit and then bust some poor bastard minding his own business to cover up the time. Didn't even let them get dressed, did he?"

I shook my head. "He took the other guy home first, just marched him up the front steps and through the front door, naked. When the deputy came back to the car Rick said he was chuckling, like he was enjoying the whole thing. Then he took Rick home."

I had to stop for a moment and have a little wine. Rick had cried when he told me this part of the story. Crash sat up and laid her head on my thigh.

"The deputy walked Rick up to the front door and rang the doorbell. It took a couple of times but Rick's father finally came to the door. When he saw Rick, saw that he was naked and in handcuffs Rick said he just looked through him, like he wasn't there.

"The deputy explained--evidentially with great enjoyment--what he had seen the boys doing and said he thought perhaps Rick's father should have a talk with Rick about it." This was the hard part, the part Rick couldn't bring himself to talk about until we'd been together quite a while, until he had learned to really trust me.

"Rick's father told the deputy that this boy wasn't his son. His son was dead and this boy--Rick--was of no consequence to him. He evidentially said that, as the boy in question was naked, he could have whatever of his dead son's clothes as he wanted. He then turned his back on them and went into the kitchen."

"Son-of-a-bitch!" Crash lifted her head and looked at Eric, as though agreeing with him.

"Well, to make a very long story short, Rick got into some clothes, packed a little valise and took what little money he had managed to save from his part time job at his father's store. His father gave the deputy twenty dollars and told him to take Rick to the bus station and send him wherever twenty dollars would take him. On the way the deputy took him out into the desert and Rick was sure the man was going to shoot him or rape him but it was just so Rick could pick up his wallet. Then he took him to the bus station, bought him a ticket to L.A. and waited until the bus left."

Les spoke up for the first time. "That poor abandoned boy. How did he survive?"

I took another sip of my wine, thankful for the interruption. I don't know why it was so hard to tell Rick's story but it was. Perhaps because I'd never heard it all at one time. It had taken Rick almost a year to tell me the whole thing, in bits and pieces.

"He survived because he was stronger than his father ever gave him credit for and because he was basically a good man. A guy at the L.A. bus station offered him a place to stay for a while. He turned out to be a good man too, in a lot of ways, and was very gentle with Rick. And Rick, for all his inexperience, was very enthusiastic about sex. They made a good pair for a while and the guy encouraged Rick to find a job and get on with his life. I suspect that Rick, in his own quiet way, did something similar in return."

Susan refilled my wine glass. "Rick was a very, very lucky boy. Being picked up in a bus station... he could have been... I don't know but I do know that the bus station isn't the best place to find a friend."

"No," said Eric. "It's a good place to begin the end of your life."

"Then what?" Les had given me his full attention, the way he did a computer problem. I wondered what Rick's life would have been if he'd met Les in the bus station instead of that other guy. But then Les didn't hang around bus stations looking for handsome young guys.

"Things got better--and worse. Rick had already been accepted to U.C.L.A. on a scholarship but when he went over there to do his paperwork they couldn't find his file at first and then they said he was dead."

"Dead? How..."

"They showed him. Attached to his file was a clipping from the Mojave weekly paper describing his funeral and burial. Someone, probably his father, had sent it to them. According to the paper Rick was dead and buried next to his mother at the Kern County cemetery."

"I don't believe it!" Susan got up and held her hands out to the fire. "How could a man... His own son..." She turned and looked at me. "That's evil. It's just plain evil."

I had to chuckle. "Think about this: He was a preacher too, a man of God."

Les scratched his head. "He really did that? I mean, a grave and everything?"

"Yes. Even a granite headstone. We went up and looked at it one weekend."

Eric, who had been listening pretty closely suddenly sat up and said, "Okay. I see it now." He looked at me with a grin. "You intend to take him up there and bury him in his own grave, right?"

"Exactly. I think it's only fitting that he be buried next to his mother in a grave dug and paid for by his father."

Suddenly everyone was talking at once. It took Les to cut through it all with practicality. "Will they let you do that? Bury two people in the same grave. Most places won't."

"If they won't I'll do it anyway. Somehow. I mean, the grave is empty so it won't be two people in it."

"Well, I don't know. Kind of hard to prove that without digging it all up."

"There has to be a way. There just has to be." I was very tired and realized that I was getting a bit emotional, something I had promised myself I wouldn't do.

Les came around to me and hugged me. "Let's let it be for now, okay. I think we should all sleep on it and see what comes up in the light of day."

We all agreed and I excused myself and went to bed. He's right, I thought. Maybe it'll be clearer tomorrow.

The next day was Thursday and I had another long, luxurious shower. Eric was off cleaning pools and mowing lawns so Crash and I went out on the deck and played ball for a while.

I was reading when Eric came back with an arm load of groceries. "Lamb chops?" he said by way of greeting. "They had some beautiful ones at Jensen's. Artichokes, too. You feeling okay?"

"I am now. I love lamb chops. And artichokes. What a treat." I got off the lounge. "I'll help."

In the kitchen he said, "Where's Les? Not off in one of his trances is he?"

"He was in the study but I don't think he was working. At least not on an interesting problem. He was just typing on the computer and petting Tux." As if he had heard us talking about him, Les appeared in the doorway.

"You cooking again tonight, Eric? How lucky can we get. What..." Eric held the lamb chops out for Les's inspection. His only comment was, "Yum." Crash let out a little bark of agreement.

Les got out some glasses and ice. "I guess if you guys are cooking I'll do the bartending. Gin?"

"Just a little," Eric said. "With a lot of tonic."

Les served the drinks and sat at the table, watching me peel garlic.

"Got a little bad news for you, David. They won't let you bury two people in the same grave up in Kern. Just as I thought, best you could do is to have the other body dug up, to show it isn't there."

"Wouldn't that be a problem?" Eric said, trimming an artichoke. "I mean, wouldn't it take kin to do that?"

Les nodded. "And I doubt that his father would be willing, based on what we know about him." He turned to me. "Oh, by the way, Mrs. Freeze called. She was quite upset because Mr. Unpronounceable is no longer delivering the mail. It seems that he's promoted to work in the office and the new mail carrier is, to quote Mrs. Freeze, `a large, formidable lady' who goes by the book. I gather that that means no more giving your mail to her."

"Damn. Now what?"

"Not to worry. Mrs. Freeze simply goes up to your mail box and takes it out. She's not sure if this is some sort of federal crime or not but she's willing to risk it." He smiled. "She is a good neighbor, isn't she? Loyal."

"Yeah, she is. Once I come back from the dead and this thing is over, if it ever is, I'm going to have to do something very nice for her." I had a sudden idea. "Hey, maybe I could send her off on a cruise with your mother."

Eric took some of the garlic I'd peeled and began rubbing it over the lamb chops. ""Good idea, Les. Maybe she'd make your mom forget to make a few of those phone calls.

Les grinned and nodded. "Maybe so, maybe so."

After dinner, cleaning up the kitchen, Eric asked if he could borrow the BMW. "I've got an idea I need to check out," he said, "and that baby would sure make it easier."

When we were through with the kitchen he took the car home with him, saying he needed to get an early start.

Friday passed slowly until Les got a phone call and suddenly had to go up to L.A. Then there was a flurry of activity as Les got ready to go.

"You'll be okay alone?" he asked, coming out to the deck in a different, lighter gray Italian suit. This time he was wearing a dark blue shirt with a powder blue silk tie.

"Sure. Eric will probably be back tonight and I'm now competent to feed Tux and Crash. And me, for that matter. Go on and have fun, we'll be fine."

He wrinkled his nose. "I'm not so sure... well, okay. This may take a couple of days so don't expect me back much before Sunday or Monday."

We spent the rest of the day playing with the Frisbee and napping in the shade. Around six I fed Crash and Tux, who not only favored me with momentary recognition but with a large yawn as well.

I made myself a salad and put one of the leftover lamb chops in the microwave. At seven Susan arrived to look at my wounds.

"Nice," she said, looking at the gash on my leg. "I think those stitches can come out safely now." She proceeded to gently cut and pull them out. Then she washed my leg with antiseptic. "You're such a good little solder. Usually people--well, guys anyway--flinch and yell when I do that. Tell you what, as a reward, tomorrow you may not only have a shower but you can also go in the pool. Not for long and no strenuous swimming but at least you can get in and cool off."

She told me she was going up to L.A. Monday, for some sort of medical conference. It was close to the coroner's office so she would pick up Rick's ashes for me. She also said she'd trust me for the hundred dollars.

By nine o'clock Crash and I were in bed. I don't know what Tux was doing; probably practicing some arcane magic.

I awoke to the smell of sausage and coffee. I did the bathroom thing, pulled on some shorts and actually managed to get into a tee shirt all by myself. In the kitchen I found Eric at the stove, closely watched by both Crash and Tux. Crash threw me a quick "good morning" over her shoulder but her attention never left Eric.

"Mornin' Davy. Coffee's about ready."

I poured mugs for both of us and handed him his. "How'd it go yesterday?"

"Got it all worked out. Tell you after breakfast." He looked down at his feet. "If you guys don't give me a little room here we're none of us going to be having sausage and eggs." His admonition had very little effect.

When we sat down Tux and Crash each got a little plate of raw egg and a bit of sausage. "I remembered," Eric said, putting down the plates. "'Just a treat, not enough to live on.'"

After the breakfast things were cleaned up Eric poured the last of the coffee into glasses filled with ice and we went out to sit in the shade on the deck. The weather had turned and it was getting to be very warm.

Once we were settled I asked him what he had gotten worked out

He turned serious. "Rick," he said. "How we're going to bury Rick in his rightful grave. That's why I borrowed your car. I went up there, to the cemetery, to see what it would take."

I had to smile, even though I had a lump in my throat. Eric was so direct, so practical. And a very good friend. "What... What will it take?"

"A lie or two. A couple of cans of brass polish. A lot of elbow grease. Oh, and a shovel."

I guess I looked a bit confused. Which I was.

Rick laughed. "Okay, okay. See, the cemetery has this high wall, with sharp spikes sticking out all along the top so there's no climbing over it, especially with you just healing up. However, very near to Richard, that is, Rick's, grave there is a very fancy mausoleum. With lots of brass gee-gaws inside. It's unlocked and it's big enough to sleep in."

"Yeah. And..."

"Well, I went up to the little office there and talked to the old guy who kind of watches out for the place. He told me a deputy sheriff comes by every day at nine o'clock at night and locks the place up tight. Another one comes by at six in the morning and unlocks it. That gives us nine hours which is more than enough to get Rick properly buried and get a good night's sleep, too."

"Okay. But what's the brass polish for?" I grinned at him. "You can't sleep with tarnish?"

He laughed. "No, I could do that all right. But see, if we're going to bring a shovel and a tarp and the ashes in, we're going to need a reason because the old guy has a keen eye. So I told him I'm a cleaning contractor and had been hired by the Holzen family to clean up the brass. Those are the folks whose name is on the crypt."

"And we're going to clean it up?"

"Sure. See Davy, when you tell a lie you kind of have to follow through with it. I told him I cleaned things so... well I have to clean things, right?"

Direct, practical, and honest. Even in a lie. "When do we do it?"

"Well, I didn't know when you'd get the ashes so I told the guy it'd be sometime next week. He seemed okay with that."

I did some mental calculations. "Well, Susan is up in L.A. Monday and comes back Tuesday. Les is probably gone until then as well. We could do it Wednesday."

"Wednesday it is. We'll go up Wednesday morning, polish until that night, take care of Rick, grab a few hours sleep in the newly polished crypt and be out of there right after the deputy unlocks the gate at six. How's that sound?"

It sounded scary, spending the night in a crypt but I guessed with Eric there it'd be okay.

"Look, I got a bunch of stuff I gotta get done. You want your book?"

I smiled at him. "Yeah, but I can get it. I'm not an invalid any more. See?" I stuck my leg out. "Susan removed the stitches last night. She even said I could get in the pool if I was careful."

He grinned. "We'll do that tomorrow, after I mow and clean the pool."

The rest of the day passed lazily. Eric came back around six with take-out Chinese. "Didn't feel like cooking, you know? I hope you like this stuff."

I did. We were both hungry but couldn't eat it all. Eric put the leftovers in the refrigerator. We talked a bit but for some reason we were both sleepy and called it a night fairly early.


Comments always appreciated and always answered.

Greg Bowden