An Empty Grave...

Chapter 5: Families

I woke a few hours later and managed to get inside and into the bathroom all by my self. On the way I glanced into Les's study--which looked more like a NASA control room than a study--and saw him staring at a monitor, concentrating so hard he wasn't aware of me or anything else. Tux was there too, lying on top of the monitor, and he was quite aware of my passing although he chose to ignore it. Evidentially I was to him as he was to Crash: invisible.

I found a detective novel in the bookcase in my room and took it outside with me but didn't get much reading done. Mostly I just looked at the mountains and dozed. Around five Les came out with a plate of vegetables, a bowl of garlic dip, and a cold bottle of white wine.

"You only get two," he said, pouring the wine. "One before dinner and one with. So says your doctor who probably knows best but who would probably never know if you had three." He handed me a glass and moved the veggies and dip to the low table next to me before settling himself in his chair. He held up his glass and looked through the straw colored wine, almost as if he was making a toast to the mountains and palm trees, before he took his first sip. "Beautiful," he said but I couldn't tell if he meant the mountains or the wine. Both I guess.

The quiet was interrupted by a loud, electronic sound. Les picked up the phone lying on the table and contemplated it for a moment before he pulled up the antenna. "It's five thirty, isn't it?" He sighed. "Only one person in the world ever calls at exactly five thirty." He punched the talk button and said, "Hi, Mom."

I tried not to eavesdrop which wasn't too difficult since most of the conversation came from the other end of the connection. I did hear him ask where she was but the answer must have been cryptic because he followed it with, "Okay but where's that?"

The call lasted thirty five minutes and when he finally punched the off button he looked exhausted. He poured himself another glass of wine and then sat in silence.

"My mother," he said after a few minutes. "She's in Belize." He turned to me. "You know where Belize is?" I shook my head. "Me neither," he said, "and I just had it explained to me."

We went back to looking at the view for a while.

Later, when we went into the house, he got out an atlas and we found Belize in Central America, just below Mexico. "Why'd she want to go there?" I asked.

"I don't suppose she did, actually. Want to go there, I mean. It's just that the ship she's on went there so she went there." He took greens out of the refrigerator and began to make a salad.

"Is she on a cruise?"

"Yeah. Has been for years."

I couldn't hide my surprise. Rick and I had contemplated taking a cruise once so I know they're expensive. "Years?"

"Off and on. Ever since my dad died in `92." He put a cutting board, a knife, and an onion on the counter in front of me. "Think you can handle this?" I nodded and he went to peeling and de-veining some prawns. "It's kind of funny, in a way. My dad spent his life reading about far away places and now that he's gone there she is, sitting in those places, drinking pastel cocktails with little umbrellas in them. A practice, you must understand, of which my father would not have approved."

While he prepared dinner he told me a little about his family. His dad had worked for the Post Office just about his whole life. He started at seventeen, sweeping up the sorting room at the substation down the block from his home. By the time he died at the age of sixty he had worked his way through sorter, carrier, supervisor and ended up as an assistant to the Deputy Postmaster of Chicago. Will Hayfield was a quiet man, content with his lot in life, a good father and, as far as Les could tell, a good husband. His greatest enjoyment, after his family, came from reading, and Les said he couldn't remember a time when his father didn't have a book in his hand. "I later realized that he was a rather timid man and spent his life just going with the flow, the path of least resistance. All the books he read were novels and I guess he actually lived more in them than he did with us."

I wondered how a man could work his whole life in the Post Office, support three children and still leave his wife enough money that she could spend her widowhood on one or another of the better cruise ships. Les laughed at that.

"No, no. That was all her doing," he said, stirring chopped garlic in a skillet with olive oil and then tossing in the prawns. "She went to work the day Mary, the youngest, graduated from high school. She got a job as a clerk at a little insurance company and later became a secretary. Somewhere along the line she bought an insurance policy on Dad. Had the premiums taken out of her pay. Since she was an employee she got some sort of discount and she took out the biggest policy she could afford. I guess she took out other policies as she got raises because when the old man died the insurance paid her just under a million-five. That's how she lives on cruise ships and pays for thirty minute phone calls half way around the world." He laughed quietly. "And that was a short one. Sometimes she talks for an hour or more."

He put some rice on a couple of plates, ladled the prawns over it and then sprinkled on some chopped parsley. "And it's not just me. Oh no, she's an equal opportunity caller. Both Brian and Mary get the same treatment except that with Brian she complains about Mary and me and to Mary she complains about Brian and me." He put the plates on the table and began to serve the salad. "She sends us stuff, too. These, for example," he held up the salad servers, "came from some God forsaken island in the Pacific somewhere. Mary and Brian each got the same ones. No favorites played here, theirs are just as ugly."

We sat down at the table. "So now you know more than you ever wanted to about my family. Aren't you sorry you asked?"

"No. It's interesting, knowing about someone else's family."

"How about yours, then. What was your family like?"

"Ordinary. Very ordinary. I was an only child, my dad was a baker and my mom was a housewife. She died when I was nine so I don't really remember her very well."

"And your dad? The paper said you didn't have any family at all."

"Yeah. He died in `95, right after I left the movie studio." The memories came flooding back to me. I was twenty five then and had just started working for the Biggest Bank In The World.

"You worked for a movie studio?"

"Don't let it impress you, Les. I worked in the corporate accounting department and never saw a single famous person my whole time there, except maybe my boss who was famous for yelling at the staff. Hell, I never even got to see a movie I didn't buy a ticket for. It was not the glamorous life."

"Your dad was a baker?"

I finished cleaning my plate. "Not to start with. He worked in a grocery store until my mother died. Up in Idaho, where her people were. Then we moved to Tucson and he became a baker. It was something he'd always wanted to do, he said, and I guess it was because he got to be a pretty good one. I think he must have been the first baker in the history of Southern Arizona to have a following. I have the impression that he periodically terrorized the owner of the bakery by threatening to leave and take all the customers with him."

Les began to clear the table. "He never re-married?"

"I don't think he had time to even think about that what with learning to bake and raising me and then putting me through college. Later though, when I was older, I kind of hoped he would. He had a couple of lady friends, I remember, but nothing serious. I felt sorry for him sometimes, being alone."

"I don't know. You get used to it." He finished putting the dishes in the dishwasher. "You tired? Want to go to bed?"

I actually felt pretty good. "No. Not really. I would like a cup of coffee though, if you have some decaf."

Les smiled; I think he was in the mood to talk. "Good idea. I also have some chocolate cookies you might appreciate, being the son of a baker and all."

We took our coffee and a plate of cookies into the living room. Well, actually Les took the coffee and cookies; I hobbled along behind. Crash walked with Les who, after all, had the cookies.

"So what happened," he asked after he'd built a fire in the fireplace and we were settled into the wing chairs in front of it. "How'd you find your way from being a baker's son in Tucson to being a murder victim in Los Angeles."

"An intended murder victim." I had a sudden catch in my throat.

"Sorry. That wasn't very..."

"No. I've got to stop this. What's happened has happened. Period. Get on with it." I sipped at my coffee, wondering just how I had gotten there. "Well, I got my MBA but in those days there wasn't a big market for MBA's in Tucson. Dad encouraged me to go where the jobs were so I ended up in San Francisco, at the bank. Then I went down to L.A, to the studio. Then I met Rick. At my boss's, would you believe? Thanksgiving dinner, 2004. It was... You ever been married, Les?"

He nodded. "Back in Chicago. My sister-in-law set it up. Nice gal but it didn't work out very well. She wanted more out of it than I did, I guess. And she hated computers. Anyway, it lasted three years and that was enough for both of us. She's married to a stock broker now, has three kids and is happy as a clam. Me, too." He poured more coffee for both of us.

"Well, it wasn't that way for me. It was... a pretty big deal. Anyway, after Rick and I got together I was offered the job Frederick and Co. and Bingo--there we were. New together, with a new job, new car, new everything." I scratched Crash behind the ears. "Except dog. Same old dog."

"So it's just you, Rick, and the dog. Not your typical American family I guess but still unlikely to upset someone so much they'd try to kill you. And from what you said to our police friend Clyde what's-his-name--that was very good, by the way, especially the part about the Wall Street Journal. I meant to tell you that after but other stuff got in the way. Anyway, from what you told the police you and Rick weren't out offending people and flaunting your... I don't know, what is it that gay people flaunt?"

A sudden image popped up in my mind, a guy we'd seen in West Hollywood at Halloween. He was wearing nothing but shoes and harem pants made out of nearly transparent gauze. We'd joked at the time that this guy was giving the term flaunting it fresh new meaning. Somehow that whole image struck me as funny and I began to laugh, deep in the chest laugh.

Les looked mystified. "Did I say something?"

"No, no, it's just me. I suddenly had a flash and... Well, you had to be there." The laughter had cleared my head somehow. "No, Les, we weren't flaunting anything. We were just living, doing our jobs, loving each other. What's to offend?"

"Well, you can't really tell. Some people get offended simply for the sake of being offended. But okay, so now what? Someone at work? You said you didn't think anyone from work had it in for you but can you be sure?"

I thought about it for a moment. "I suppose you can't ever be absolutely sure about anything, but I really don't think there was anyone around Frederick and Company that hated me. Even C. Weston Hollingsworth, who should have, didn't. And even if he had, he wouldn't have killed me. His idea of violence is to stamp his foot and whine. As to the others... Nah. Most of them worked for me and all of them seemed to like what I was doing, keeping C. Weston off their backs. No, I really can't imagine it's anyone from work."

"How about Rick's work? Anyone there who might have had it in for you?"

"Very unlikely. Rick was a management consultant. His company sent him to work at a lot of places. Besides, Rick was a very private person. I doubt he ever mentioned my name any place he worked."

"His company? Maybe someone had the hots for him."

That made me laugh again. "Les, the company was run by lesbians. Very... ah, self assured lesbians. No, I don't think anyone there had the hots for Rick."

Les got up and looked in the coffee pot. "You want some more?" I shook my head and he poured the last of it into his cup. He added sugar and stirred, lost in thought for a long while.

"Well damn it David, somebody had it in for you, somebody hated you enough to break into your house, commit murder, spray paint your walls, and then for God's sake torch the place. Somebody..." He lapsed into silence again.

I hobbled over to the fireplace and sat on the hearth with my back to the flames letting the heat soak into me. I knew Les was right; there had to be someone out there who hated me enough to kill me. But who? Who could hate me--or anyone, for that matter--that much?

Les snapped his fingers. "Wait a minute. Maybe not. Hate you I mean. Could it have been financial gain of some sort? People kill for money all the time. Maybe that Fag David stuff and the fire was just to... I don't know, cover up the real motive?"

I thought about it for a bit but still drew a blank. "Who? The only person in the world who would gain financially from my death is Rick. Was Rick." That lump jumped up in my throat again but I forced myself to go right on. I was not going to give in to... well whatever it was. I simply had to deal with it. "All my insurance is made out to him, my IRA, my retirement fund, everything."

Les is a very methodical man--I guess you have to be to program computers--and he spent the next hour quizzing me about my finances. Finally, though, even he had to admit that there just didn't seem to be any clue in that direction. We decided to pack it in and go to bed. At least I did; Les said he'd gotten a new contract that afternoon and needed to get started on it. It had something to do with a program some consultant had written which didn't work the way it was supposed to. The client was going nuts so Les went to his study to start fixing it.


Comments always appreciated and always answered.

Greg Bowden