An Empty Grave...
Chapter 13: Burial
I'm never at my best at in the morning but at least I was up, dressed and waiting for Eric. Even Crash seemed a bit lethargic although she'd eaten her breakfast with relish. What is it with dogs that they can eat at any hour of the day or night?
Eric was right on time. "Missed you last night," he said, showing Crash the bed he'd made for her on the little bench just behind the front seats. When Crash was settled he kissed me and said, "You, too. Sleep well?"
"Well as can be expected, sleeping alone."
Eric grinned at that and started the truck. "You eat?"
I shook my head. "Too early for food."
"Never too early for food. Let's get some coffee, maybe a couple of donuts."
Lord, I thought, he could be Crash's brother. Fifteen minutes later, donuts and coffee in hand, we started for Mojave.
Just outside of San Bernardino Crash woke up and seemed a little restless. "I think we need to stop pretty soon," I said to Eric. "I think she needs to get out."
He reached around the seat and patted her. "Doggy need a little rest stop? Well, it turns out I do too." A couple of miles later he got off the freeway and found a place we could stop. We all got out and stretched. Crash immediately relieved herself, sniffed a couple of flowers and jumped back into the truck. Eric and I were a little slower, standing next to each other, seeing who could pee the farthest. I actually won that one.
When we were on our way again I asked him why he'd gone to his own place the night before.
He laughed. "To give you and Les a
chance to talk, of course. What'd you guys drink? I'll bet it was the
"Yes, but how do you..."
"When he gets serious about something he always breaks out
I turned in my seat to look at him. "Can I ask you something? Have you ever done this before? I mean, with a guy?"
He gave me a quick look and turned back to watching the road. "No Davy, I've never done anything before, with another guy. And you know why? I'll tell you why. Because I never met a guy I wanted to do anything with." He paused. "Until you came along. Then it seemed like... I don't know. Like I wanted to kiss you and then I wanted to make love to you." He turned and grinned at me. "See? It's all your fault."
The only response that came to me was, "Wow."
"So what did you guys talk about last night?"
"You. Me a little bit." I stopped for a moment, trying to put it all together in my mind. "He was worried about how I was reacting to you. He asked if I was okay with what was happening--so soon after Rick."
He gave me another quick glance. "Are you? It seemed like..."
"Like I told Les, I've made my peace with Rick. Maybe a fling would be good for me just now."
Without a word he slowed and then pulled off the road, onto the shoulder. He shut off the engine and twisted around in his seat so he was looking squarely at me. Very quietly he said, "This is not a fling, Davy, at least not for me. Oh, I've had flings before, plenty of them and I know what that feels like. This is not that. This is something quite different."
I started to say something but he cut me off.
"No, wait. Let me say... what I have to say. I've tried not to hurt any of the women I've been with, tried not to come on too strong, tried to give them as much as they gave me. But I wasn't very good at it. Ever. Just ask Les. Anyway, it's different with you and it's not going to go away." He held up his hand to stop me from saying anything. "But I know about Rick and I know how you were with him. Maybe you're not ready for anything but a fling right now. But you won't always be that way, you have too much love in you, too much love to keep it all in." He smiled at me. "And besides, a fling is better than nothing and who knows where it might go. No pressure, Davy, no pressure to do anything but have a good time and see where it leads." He leaned in and kissed me lightly. "Okay, it's your turn now."
I didn't know what to say and I told him so.
"Well, if you think of anything just speak right up, okay?" He started the engine and carefully pulled back into the traffic.
Two hours later we were in Mojave. I still couldn't think of anything to say.
At the cemetery Eric parked in front of the little building that serves as an office. "I'm going to go in and tell him we're here. You get out with Crash and walk around a little. Make sure you can be seen from the office, I especially want him to see Crash."
"Workmen who bring a dog with them are automatically good and honest guys. I want us to be good and honest."
How does he know this stuff? Crash and I got out of the truck and Crash immediately rolled in the grass, giving little yelps of joy. Life seems so simple for dogs.
Eric was back in just a couple of minutes. "All set, Davy. Let's us get to polishing."
We took the truck a bit further up the road and then across the lawn to a very impressive, and very big, mausoleum, complete with stone angels on the corners of the roof and a stained glass window over the gate. Holzen was set in the stained glass, the family name.
Inside, it was even more impressive. There were about a dozen large marble plaques set in the walls. All of them had names and dates carved on them. Each plaque had a brass angel attached to it, each one different and all of them black with tarnish. We had our work cut out for us!
Out side Eric drove a stake into the ground and attached Crash's lead to it. He made sure the lead was long enough so that she could come into the mausoleum to see what we were doing if she wanted to. Then he put out a water dish and a chew toy for her. She looked up at him with those adoring eyes that only a dog, or someone in love, has.
"You ready, buddy-boy?" he asked, handing me a broom. "I figure that we'll get started and then go check out Rick's place at lunch time. If you'll sweep the place out I'll start on the angels."
We worked in silence but my mind was running a mile a minute, trying to figure out what Eric's little speech that morning had meant. And how I felt about it.
When the place was swept clean I started on one of the angels. This one had it's wings furled and it's back to me, as though looking into the vault at the man it was guarding: Andrew Holzen, 1814--1844. Who was he, I wondered as I brought the brass up to a bright shine. Thirty, a young man in his prime, even in 1844. What was he like? There was no clue. Unlike the other vaults this one carried only the name and dates of life, none of the other designations such as Loving Father or Dutiful Wife or even Horse Thief, the description on a vault down at the very bottom corner of the mausoleum. Family is a very strong bond, I thought. Even when he's a horse thief, he's still family.
"Davy? You okay?"
I thought about it for a moment. "Yeah Eric, I'm fine. Better than I thought." I went over and kissed him, my hand at the nape of his neck. Not a brotherly kiss.
When we broke he looked at me, his eyes sparkling. "Good." We went back to our polishing.
At someone poked his head through the gates of the mausoleum. "Just came to see how you boys are getting along." He looked around. "Lotta work. I'd say those things haven't been cleaned since they were put in here." He shook his head. "Darn shame, too. I'm glad the family finally decided to spruce up of the place. Funny though, I didn't know any of them were still around." He held his hand out for Crash, who had been eyeing him suspiciously, to sniff. "Nice dog. Well behaved. Don't see that much anymore." He patted her on the head.
"Well, it's about , time to get home for lunch. You boys bring your lunch? If not, there's a Burger Barn just down the road there. They got pretty good stuff I guess. Not like a real home cooked lunch but some folks like it. There's also Ed's Café down the other way but I don't recommended it. Well, see you at two, after my nap." He gave us a little wave and sauntered off down the road, whistling tunelessly.
Eric looked at me and we both burst out laughing. "Well, Davy, what'll it be?"
"Burger Barn of course. It comes highly recommended."
We had take-out Double-Burgers, fries and real, made with ice cream, milkshakes. We ate in the shade of a large, broad leafed tree and shared some meat and milkshake with Crash. After we went off to look at Rick's grave.
"Over there," I said, pointing. "Near that big tree."
It was. And it was exactly as I remembered: dark gray marble with the inscription
Richard Wallace 1978--1996
Son of William and Edna
God Save Him
Next to it was his mother, Edna. There was a flower shop vase of wilted flowers in front of her headstone, evidence that someone still tended it. I wondered if it was his father.
Eric looked around and nodded. "We'll have to be sure we don't light up that tree too much. Wouldn't do to have someone come to investigate strange lights in the cemetery."
We went back to our polishing. The caretaker didn't put in an appearance until a few minutes before five. Looking around he said, "Nice work, boys. Looks downright pretty in here. Now don't forget, you gotta be finished and gone by nine or you'll find yourselves in here for the night. Don't get much sleep I imagine, being locked up in the graveyard." He grinned and took off, down the road.
"Why don't we do it now? Bury Rick. Then we could..."
Eric interrupted. "Two reasons, Davy. One, we have to finish this," he gestured, taking in the whole of the mausoleum. "Two, can't risk folks coming around to pay their respects and finding us digging up the place. That sheriff'd be here before they could say `grave robber.'"
He was right, of course, but I still wasn't looking forward to, as the caretaker said, being locked up in the graveyard for the night.
Dinner came from the Burger Barn, except for Crash's. Hers came from a bag of kibble Eric had brought. He'd also brought some chicken broth to pour over it so Crash saw it as a treat. At eight Eric unloaded the truck. There was a tarp, shovels, blankets and a couple of small Coleman lamps. Then he took the truck around the back of the cemetery and parked it behind a stand of oleanders.
With the polishing completed there was nothing to do but wait for . We sat in the twilight, out of sight of the road but still close enough to hear the gates close. Eric produced a couple beers from the cooler. "Thought a cold beer would hit the spot, after a good day's labor," he said, toasting me.
We heard a car drive up and stop. "Must be the sheriff by the sound of that engine. Souped up Crown Vic most likely." There was the creak of the gate closing, a rattle as the lock was tested and, finally, the roar of the car as it took off down the road. When the sound had died away Eric leaned over and kissed me. "Okay, Davy. Let's get to it. Do what we came to do."
It took us a couple of hours. We cut out the turf in one piece and set it on the tarp. Then came the soil, the hard part because it was a sort of clay and hard to dig in. We put it in a couple of boxes Eric had brought for that purpose. "Got to carry it away," he said, "no place to dump it here."
When he judged the hole to be large enough we lowered the box with Rick's ashes into it and covered it with a good layer of soil. The turf went back on top of that, tamped down with our feet. When we were through you couldn't tell we'd ever been there. We stood in silence for a few moments and I think even Crash understood that it was a goodbye to Rick. Anyway I'd like to think that she did.
Eric broke the silence. "It's also a celebration, you know. He's finally in his rightful place." He excused himself, leaving me alone with my thoughts. When he reappeared he was carrying a tray with a bottle of champagne, a small saucer and three glasses. He put it on the grass, opened the bottle and filled the three glasses and the saucer. One glass he handed to me, the second he put on top of Rick's gravestone and the saucer went in front of Crash.
"I thought we should have a little toast, to Rick, to you and to Crash." He held up his glass. "To Rick, may he be in peace." We raised our glasses and drank, well, except for Crash. She took a sniff, sneezed and turned away from it. I suppose the bubbles got in her nose.
"To David, may he find peace as well, but here, with us." He lifted his glass and touched mine, then drank.
"And to Crash." He leaned down and deftly poured the champagne out of her saucer and replaced it with some leftover chicken broth. "May she find the joy she gives to all of us" Crash drank to that and then looked up to see if there was more.
I was overcome. With what he'd done and with the man himself. I dried my eyes with the back of my hand and took him in my arms. The only words I could think of were "Thank you." He understood what I meant.
We took the tools, lamps and dirt back to the mausoleum, leaving Rick's glass where it was. In the mausoleum Eric spread some of the blankets on the floor. "Damn! I forgot the pillows. Can you sleep without a pillow?"
"Don't have to. You just," I slipped out of my jeans and underwear, "fold your clothes up like this," I demonstrated, "and you have a perfectly serviceable pillow. Add your shirt and it's even smooth and soft."
Eric grinned but didn't say a word, he just followed my example. We lay down and Crash laid next to us, on her own blanket. Eric pulled a light blanket over us, fitted himself against my body, put his arm around me and kissed me on the ear. When I pressed back against him he whispered, "Not yet, Davy. Not yet, but soon, maybe." He kissed me again and we fell into a contented sleep.
We woke when we heard the sheriff's car roar up. We listened to the creak of the gate and let out a breath when the car drove away. Thirty minutes later we had the truck loaded and were rolling through the entrance to the cemetery.
We stopped in Palmdale and bought gas for the truck and breakfast for us. Crash, who had slept peacefully through the night, was alert and watched the passing scenery for a while, until that sort of hypnosis that dogs get on a road trip came over her and she laid down and went to sleep.
When we got on I-10, just after
Les put his book down and said, "You get the job done?"
"Yeah, piece of cake," Eric said. "Went off like clockwork."
I nodded my assent. "He made it all so simple," I said, nodding towards Eric. "Is he always like that?"
Les grinned. "Well, there have been a few times... But yes, generally he's like that."
"Well, I got a lot of stuff I need to get done. Maybe I'll stop by later."
"You'd better. Susan is coming for dinner tonight and I promised her I'd talk you into doing lamb chops again. Can I? Talk you into chefing?"
Eric smiled. "Sure, if I can talk Davy here into peeling all that garlic."
I smiled at him. "For your lamb chops I'd do anything."
He raised an eyebrow and grinned. "You're on." To Les: "I'll pick up the stuff at Jensen's." He gave me a quick kiss and was gone. Les made no comment.
Crash and I spent the rest of the day with Les, napping, reading and swimming, well except for the reading part. Crash substituted more napping for that. Tux substituted napping for all of it.
Eric showed up around five-thirty, loaded down with
grocery bags. Susan, a half hour later, with
Eric and I found that we worked pretty well together in the kitchen. I peeled and smashed garlic while he cleaned artichokes. He rubbed the chops with the garlic while I infused the butter with more of it. Then we both made the salad and put it in to chill. Only then did we join Les and Susan on the deck and pleaded to be anointed with gin.
"I hear you uh... you took care of Rick last night," Susan said, selecting an olive from the bowl in the middle of the table. Les thinks olives take up too much room in the gin so he puts them on the table instead of in the drinks. "Was it... bad?"
"No, not really," I said. "I'd say it was more of an adventure. I mean, there we were, breaking and entering a cemetery. Well, not exactly but you get the idea."
She smiled. "Yes, I guess I do."
"And we had a little ceremony when we were through, a toast to Rick with champagne." I nodded at Eric. "It was his idea, and a very touching one." Eric actually blushed a little.
We made small talk until dinner. Then it was all about the food. Really good food, much better than what we'd had the night before, from Burger Barn.
After dinner we sat on the deck, enjoying another glass of wine.
"So, now that Rick's been taken care of," Susan said, "what's next? What are you going to do?"
"I've been giving that a lot of thought." When I said it
I realized that I really had thought about it. I'm not sure when but I really
had. "I think it's time to leave the warm comfort of
"Not a good idea," Les said. "There's still someone out there who's going to be majorly pissed when he finds out you're still alive."
"I've thought about that. Maybe it's time for me to show myself and let him have another go at it. Let him come out of the shadows, as it were, and show himself." I looked at each one of them in turn. "I can't go on living like this forever, hiding, hoping the police will do something. Which they won't."
Eric looked at me. "If you do, if you come back to life, I'm going to have one hell of a job bodyguarding."
"But that's the point, Eric. I can't go through the rest of my life needing a bodyguard." I smiled at him. "Besides, you're better suited to some other things in my life." Eric suddenly got a grin on his face.
"And there are a number of other considerations. Oxford Consulting has got to be wondering where their man is, why he hasn't at least contacted them. The police are no doubt wondering the same thing. Then there's the probable frenzy going on at Frederick & Company. C. Weston Hollingsworth has got to have peed every pair of pants he owns by now, not to mention the board of directors. Then there's the house..."
"Yeah, that's going to be a real ball of snakes. Just getting him off the title..."
"No, Les. At least I won't have that particular problem. The house is in my name alone. Rick was afraid that if it was in both names his father would somehow find out about it and try to do something stupid, something to hurt us. But I don't want that house anymore anyway. I'm going to sell it. But I can't do that until I establish that I'm alive and I'm me."
Eric leaned forward and refilled my wine glass. "Can't do it anyway Davy, not the way it is. We got to get it fixed up first or you'll be selling it for peanuts."
Then there's the little matter of a job. I need one to live, to keep Crash in doggy biscuits"
At the mention of her name she came over to me and laid her head on my leg. I scratched her behind the ears.
We sat there in silence for a few moments, each of us thinking our own thoughts. Finally I sighed and said quietly, "But the truth is that somewhere inside me a little voice is saying Don't do any of that. Don't do anything. Just let it be. And I think that scares me more than anything."
Eric came around the table and stood behind me with his
hands on my shoulders. "Okay, here's the plan. You're going to lay low for
another few days. That's because the guys I know in the police department here
are off on some dumb training thing and won't be back before then. They'll
listen to what you have to say `cause I'll tell `em to. They'll be able to pave the way for us to talk with
Les looked at Eric. "And you'll be his bodyguard?"
Eric nodded. "Once he's come out I'll be with him twenty-four, seven. He won't be able to go to the bathroom without me." He looked at me and held my eyes. "I mean it. Twenty-four, seven."
Susan laughed. "As long as I've known you, Eric, I never thought I'd see you tied down to someone like that. It must be love."
He shrugged. "It's late and it's been a long day for us." He turned to me. "Go get some shut-eye, Davy. I'll see you tomorrow. In the afternoon. I've got a bunch of stuff to get done first." With that he got up, kissed Susan on the cheek, kissed me, only with me it was on the mouth, and hugged Les. Then he was gone.
"Well," Susan said, dividing the last of the wine among us, "he pays attention, he thinks and he acts. With perfect certainty. David, you have a formidable friend there. I just hope you can control him, at least his wilder impulses."
Les laughed. "Oh, he has more than a little control, Susan. Eric will do whatever Dave wants. Just you watch." He turned to me. "Just be careful of him, Dave. He's a little fragile too, you know." He drank the last of his wine. "But he has good ideas. It's time to hit the sack."
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