An Empty Grave...

Chapter 6: Eric

The next morning, Thursday, not even a full week since the accident, was a major achievement for me: I managed to get out of bed, get my crutches and go to the bathroom all by myself. Showering, of course, was out of the question and I still couldn't dress myself except to struggle into a robe but nevertheless it was an achievement.

I also managed to feed Crash and even found Tux's food and filled his dish on the shelf by the washing machine. His thanks consisted of allowing his eyes to focus on me for just a moment, admitting to my presence.

The coffee was the one thing I couldn't manage because the filters were kept on the second shelf and I couldn't reach that high yet so I had to content myself with orange juice from the fridge. By that time Crash was finished with her breakfast so she and I made our way out to the back deck where I gingerly lowered myself onto a lounge and she dashed around the lawn celebrating the morning.

I found a week old Time on the little table next to the lounge and tried to read for a while. I wasn't very successful; my mind was too full of questions to let me concentrate on the atrocities occurring half way across the world. Finally I put the magazine down and just let my mind whirl off in its own directions.

Around nine thirty or ten--convalescing accident victims don't need watches--the back gate was opened and a guy pushing a wheel barrow full of garden tools came in. I guess he didn't see me up on the deck because he went right to work. I wondered if Tux had suddenly taken on human form and had become a gardener, not only because he didn't seem to even know I was there but also because he moved like a cat, every motion flowing into the next without perceptible effort. But man or cat, he was a handsome one with thick, black curly hair and a sensuous mouth topped by a generous moustache. His hair kind of tumbled down over his forehead and he seemed always to be brushing back but never with much success.

He also filled out his jeans and tee shirt exactly as the designers had intended.

While I stayed quietly on my lounge, Crash, who has never met a stranger, dashed over to him and began vacuuming his jeans to see if he had a dog, too.

"Well, who're you?" he said, scratching her behind the ears, exactly where she liked it. He went back and closed the gate and then looked around. He finally spotted me on the deck and came over. His eyes were the same color as his hair and he had a froth of curls bubbling over the neck band of his tee shirt.

"Hi," he said. "Les up yet?"

I shook my head. "I think he worked pretty late." I held out my hand. "I'm David. Excuse me for not getting up but..." I gestured at my bruised and bandaged legs.

"No problem," he said, shaking my hand. He had a boyish grin and the whitest teeth I think I've ever seen. "Name's Eric. I sorta do stuff around the place for Les. That your dog?"

"Yeah. Her name's Crash."

He laughed. "A bit active as a puppy was she? Pretty though. What kind is she?"

"Airedale. Well, mostly Airedale." Crash nuzzled his hand, hoping for some more scratching. Eric accommodated her. "What's Tux think about her? He's kind of jealous of his property."

I chuckled. "He seems to have made his peace with it. I think he's decided to ignore her in hopes that she'll just go away, like a bad dream."

He gave me that grin again. "Sounds like a plan to me." He paused and gave me a quick look over. "You're a mite banged up there. That wouldn't be on account of that gate post down by the drive would it?"

I admitted that it was and hoped that it hadn't been too much trouble for him to repair.

"Oh, hell no. A few new stones and a sack of mortar and it was all done. But I'd say you owe Les about half a day of my pay on that." He glanced at his watch. "Well, look, I guess I better be gettin' to my work or I'll be the one owin' Les half a day's pay. I'll do my best to remember to keep the gate closed so ol' Crash stays in." He went back to the wheelbarrow, pulled on a pair of gloves and began spading up one of the flower beds that border the lawn. Crash went over to help, sniffing the soil as he turned it over in case there might be something interesting living in it. I settled back into the lounge and watched.

Three hours later, the beds now filled with new plants, Eric stood back to admire his work and then came up to the deck, admonishing Crash to stay out of the flowers. "Still no sign of Les, huh? Guess he must've made a long session of it last night. Does that sometimes. You hungry?"

I was. I hadn't had any breakfast and my stomach was beginning to protest. Eric went inside and pretty soon returned with a plate of ham and cheese sandwiches, some chips and two bottles of beer. It was a great lunch.

While we ate Eric asked me about the accident and told me it was he who had managed to get my truck down to the shop in town. He wasn't hopeful about getting it repaired but he did think I might be able to sell it. The way he put it was, "Oh, hell yes, some ol' guy from Desert Hot Springs will give you maybe a couple of hundred bucks so he can park it in his front yard for the next hundred years and maybe strip a few parts off it now and again. I guess you haven't been up to Desperate Hot Springs but when you do you'll see all the old cars and appliances folks keep in their front yards for spares." He laughed. "Up there it's a status thing. I guess that's why it's called Desperate Hot Springs."

He asked if everything I had was in the truck and I told him it was and I was wishing I had some of my things from the City with me. Specifically some clothes and a couple of books I'd been reading before I came to Les's and smashed up the truck--not to mention myself. I thought probably Crash would like to have her ball and her Frisbee too, if they weren't burned up.

"Yeah, Les told me about your fire up there. That's a bummer. But it didn't burn everything up, did it?"

"No. Actually it didn't burn much except for the bedroom. But I sure would like to get some of my clothes down here. I'm getting tired of Les's baggy sweats."

"Kind of hard to be all the time askin' Les to run up there, I guess. Too bad you don't have some way to get stuff back here."

I asked what he meant about getting things back to Les's and he explained that, by his reckoning, it was about time for Les to make one of his sudden rush trips to the city. If I had a way to get my things back I could go up with him. Eric was pretty certain that Les went clear into L.A. so my going along shouldn't be any inconvenience at all.

"For that matter, I guess I could just wait at my house until he's through and then come back with him."

"Long wait. He doesn't usually come back for a couple of days. One time almost a week. And then when he gets home all he does is sleep for a couple of days." He shook his head and said, "Sometimes I do wonder what he does up there but then," he shrugged, "it's no business of mine, is it?"

It occurred to me that I did have a way to bring my things back. "Hey, Eric, I have a car up there and I'd really like to bring it down here. Do you suppose... Well, would you be willing to go up there with us and then drive me and my car back? I'd pay you..."

"What kind of car?"

That stopped me for a second. "Uh, a BMW."

"Which one?"

"M3. The convertible. Titanium silver."

"Oh, yeah! Hell, I'd pay you to for a chance to drive that. Sure, I'll do it."

"Do what?" It was Les, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. I explained what we had been talking about and Les nodded. "Good idea although I'm not sure I'd hire Evil Kenevil here as my driver." Eric looked stung.

"Hey, I'm careful. I'll drive that baby just like I was a little old lady with blue hair."

"Sure. Little old lady named Ma Barker. But seriously, it is a good idea. David will be needing some real clothes pretty soon and I'm sure one day he'll even be able to drive again." He stared off into space, idly scratching his crotch. "I guess I'll be going up there pretty soon. Been a while."

Eric went into the house and came out a few minutes later with another sandwich and beer which he handed to Les. Les turned down the beer, took the sandwich and went to get himself a Coke. "It's caffeine I need, not alcohol," he said over his shoulder. Eric shrugged his shoulders, popped open Les's beer and took a swallow. "Well, guess I'd better get back to it. Come on, doggy, you can help me lay drip hose."

I spent the rest of the day dozing and watching Eric go about his chores. Around four he decided Crash didn't get enough exercise so he abandoned the flower beds, found an old tennis ball in the garage and spent an hour throwing it for her. When she'd had enough he announced that he had to go. "Got me a hot one tonight and I got to be all clean and pretty smellin' for her." He attempted a leer which came out as a rather charming expression on him. "I think this might be the night I get lucky."

Les emerged from his study around six, just long enough to put a couple of TV dinners in the microwave. "You doing okay, David?" I nodded and he looked relieved. "I think I'm finally getting a handle on the problem. Why they ever hired that guy, I'll never know; he can't program a VCR." Les took his dinner and disappeared back into the study.

I was beginning to smell again so I spent some time with a wash cloth and soap. I was beginning to be able to stretch a little and it hurt like hell but I did a passable job--at least Crash stopped wrinkling her nose every time she walked past me. We watched TV in the living room for a while but the pain got bad so I went and took one of the little yellow pills. After that it was all over.

Friday passed about as Thursday had only without Eric to look at. Les came out of his study a couple of times, once to nuke another TV dinner and once to restock the little refrigerator he had in there. It was obvious he was living mainly on caffeine and sugar. I couldn't imagine how he did it. Both times he seemed in a daze, as though he didn't want to lose this train of thought.

For my part, I spent the day back on the lounge on the deck, lying naked in the sun, trying to absorb all the vitamin D I could. I'd read somewhere that that helped bruises to heal. In between naps I went over and over the people I knew, trying to see some connection with what had happened.


Comments always appreciated and always answered.

Greg Bowden