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The Swan King

By Kevin Greene All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Mystery

Chapter 1

      I was watching a marathon of Doctor Who, or, more accurately, a marathon of Doctor Who was watching me one Sunday night when my cell phone rang. I sat up on the couch in my dark living room lit only by the TV, blinked a few times and reached for my phone, almost knocking over a cold, half empty bowl of Beef Lo Mein. My cat Thor, who was lying on my lap, gave me annoyed and climbed off. Bachelor life. I slapped the phone around a little on the coffee table, finally got a hold of it and answered.

“Hello?”

“Hello,” said an attractive sounding voice. “Is this William Farrar?

I sat up more and shook some more cobwebs away. On TV, The Doctor was being dragged into the Pandorica by all of his enemies in a last ditch effort to imprison him forever. There were days where I could almost relate. Glancing at the cable box, I saw it was 9:52. The Mets were playing the Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. It was well into the game already. Man, I had really dozed off.

“Um… yes it is. How can I help you?”

“Mr. Farrar, my name is Jessica Chandler. I’m calling on behalf of my father. He heard that you are very good at finding original comic pages and he’s very interested in finding a particular one.”

I reached over and turned the floor lamp on next to the couch. I don’t know why; it wouldn’t help the conversation any. Thor squinted, jumped down from the couch and walked out. Cats.

I rubbed my face and tried to not make any sounds as I stretched my free arm and legs out. I’m not sure how successful I was. “Ok. What is he looking for?”

“Well, I would rather he discuss it with you personally. Would you be able to come out to South Orange, New Jersey? Are you familiar with it?”

I had a buddy back in the day that went to Seton Hall so I did my fair share of hanging out in that area. I hadn’t been back in awhile but I didn’t mind returning. There was a comic store on South Orange Avenue that I could pop in on, too. It was almost impossible for me to not drop into a comic book store if I were near one. Occupational hazard.

“Yes, I’ve been,” I said. “I can drive out. When did you want me to come by?”

“Oh, you drive,” she said, surprised. “I didn’t expect you to have a car. I thought most people in the city got around by train.”

“I still do. But there have been more and more times where I need a car so I caved in and bought one. Most of my time driving it is switching which side of the street it’s parked on.”

She laughed politely. “I imagine. Well, the address is 394 North Ridgewood Road. Will you need directions?”

“No, I’m good. Around 11 tomorrow ok?”

She agreed and we hung up. 394 North Ridgewood Road. I texted myself the address, got the remote and turned from BBC America to ESPN. The Mets were down 2-0 in the 7th inning. I went to the kitchen, got a Corona and dropped back on the couch. Hmm. I wondered what page this guy was looking for. If he lived around where I thought he did, he was probably doing ok money-wise. There was no telling what he wanted or how much he was willing to put out for it. Interesting. I had just found a Neal Adams Batman page for a guy and brokered the deal between he and the seller that netted me a good bit of cash. Maybe this could be just as good. Definitely worth driving to Jersey for. On TV, Matt Kemp hit a homerun and the Mets were down 3-0. I finished my beer and at some point, with Thor back on my lap and the floor lamp back off, fell back asleep.

____________

The next morning I got up and put on my usual spring attire; Dark jeans, denim shirt with a long sleeve tee underneath, a pair of Nikes and my ever-present blue on blue Mets hat. Fashionable. I left a little later than I wanted to but it was after rush hour and I was going against traffic, which usually flows from Jersey to New York in the mornings. I decided to avoid the Verrazano/Goethals bridge way through Staten Island and went the Manhattan way. I left my apartment on East 19th St. in Brooklyn and drove up Flatbush Avenue in my prize possession black Call of Duty Jeep Wrangler, heading towards the Manhattan Bridge. On ESPN radio Mike and Mike were discussing the NFL draft, segueing somehow into an argument about using your cellphone in the bathroom. It was a beautiful spring morning, still a little cool but with the temperature easing up into the high sixties. There wasn’t a cloud in the brilliant blue sky and I had my windows down as I drove across the bridge, glancing at the new Freedom Tower where the WTC used to be. The bridge led over the East River and the FDR, still a little heavy with traffic, through the granite arch and colonnade at its mouth and then onto Canal Street, right at Chinatown. I stayed on Canal and made my way across to the west side. This was one of the slowest parts of the trip. Traffic was always heavy and there were a lot of people out, strolling, looking in the just opened shops, maybe heading to work late. Mike and Mike gave way to Colin Cowherd, who opened his show with a Carmelo Anthony rant, which I disagreed with. Eventually I turned onto the entrance of the Holland Tunnel to Jersey and drove in, raising my windows. Nothing like a mouthful of car, truck and bus exhaust to ruin a perfectly good morning.

I emerged on the 1 and 9 on the Jersey side, which slices through Jersey City, snaking it’s way on elevated and non elevated roadways, through endless construction until it becomes the Pulaski Skyway, the notorious steel monolith that looms over a good portion of that area and memorably got blown up in the Spielberg/Cruise version of War Of The Worlds. Mercifully, I got off just before then, getting on Route 7, past more construction and then around two huge, seemingly useless loops before crossing the old Wittpenn draw bridge towards Kearny. It’s such a convoluted way to go. Imagine going to the bathroom in your house by walking out your front door, climbing up a ladder leaning against the house, scrambling across the roof and down through the bathroom window. It seemed just about that sensible.

But it wasn’t over yet, though it did get a little simpler. I headed to Route 280, which took me past Kearny and Harrison and through Newark. It usually bogs down there but again I lucked out and soon enough I was through the other Oranges before exiting into West Orange right on the South Orange border. Not too long after that I was driving up North Ridgewood Road and noticing the change from smaller, tightly spaced homes to larger, fancier ones on bigger lots. I always loved these houses, especially further up the hill towards the reservation at the crest of the incline, where there were woods and small streams. If I had the money, I would definitely buy a home in this area. That being a very big “if”.

I got to 394 North Ridgewood Road and realized that “if” was even bigger. The house sat on private grounds behind a huge black wrought iron gate that no doubt circled the property. At the entry gate and drive there was a small sentry house on the outside and a metal call box on the driver’s side. I couldn’t even see the house from where I was. Big trees sat in a row behind the gate, their branches casting a nice shade over the drive. I pulled up to the box and looked at my watch. 10:46. I hate being too early but it might just take me fourteen minutes to find where the hell I was going. I pressed the little button on the box and waited. Off in the distance I could hear lawnmowers, more than one, no doubt meaning landscapers. Probably not too many people around here did the yard work themselves. A series of sprinklers were doing their job at the house across the street, gently spraying a massive front lawn. A jogger went by, a redhead with a white cap, magenta top and black leggings. She ran easily and looked pretty good doing it. Tough neighborhood.

The silver box let out a split second of static and then Jessica Chandler’s voice came through clearly. “Yes?”

“Hello Jessica, it’s William Farrar. I’m a little early.”

“Oh, hello!” she said. “That’s fine! Come up the drive and park near the other cars. I’ll meet you at the front door.”

The gate started moving soundlessly open. Somebody probably came out and oiled it twice a month for it to be that quiet. Maybe a special rolling-gate oiling robot did it. In this neighborhood I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

I drove through the gate and up the drive and finally the house became visible. It was like something out of a British television show. South Orange Abbey. It was all muted red brick and stone with a sloping slate roof and large windows that had what seemed like a million panes in each. Ivy crept up the left side of the house, covering at least two thirds of the height, which was pretty impressive because the house was very tall. Out front there were neatly manicured hedges in stone pots, standing high over an explosion of multi-colored flowers and plants. The whole house was surrounded by a beige gravel walkway and drive. The place was huge. I half expected Alfred to come out and tell me that Master Bruce was indisposed at the moment.

There was a garage to the right of the house that you would only be disappointed in if you had more than eight cars. There was a sleek, black Audi R8 sitting in front of one of the open doors and next to it there was a short, muscled guy in a tight black tee shirt and shorts squirting water from a hose onto an absolutely stunning silver Bentley Mulsanne. Just washing that car was a privilege. I pulled up about twenty feet away and got out, leaving my Mets hat in the Jeep. Chandler was probably a Yankee fan and all I needed was for him to insult the Mets. Punching a prospective client was never good.

Short muscle guy stopped what he was doing and stared at me. He probably wasn’t that short but being that wide made him look it. He definitely had the build and stance of a serious workout nut: The overdeveloped trapezius, the huge biceps, the insanely large calf muscles. He eyed me up and down, kind of like he was sizing me up. Were we supposed to fight? Was this to be a “Find my comic art then take on my driver in a steel cage death match” sort of visit? I really needed to get more info before I made these trips.

I gave SMG a head nod and a “Howyoudoin’?” but he just stared for a few more seconds and then resumed washing the car. Yup. Death match.

I was just turning to look at the house when the front door opened and a blonde wearing a white tennis outfit and holding a racket stepped out and came down the front steps. She saw me and motioned for me to come over. So I did.

As I approached I gave her a good look. She was tall but curvy, like a Jim Lee drawing of Wonder Woman. She had implausibly long legs that seemed even longer coming out from under her short skirt. They ended in ankle high socks and white and lavender Nikes. Though her legs were long she was not skinny, her arms looking nicely muscled but lean and her torso strong looking in her comfortable looking top. She was sort of busty as well and I reminded myself not to look at her breasts, although that top had a pretty deep neckline. At least try not to get caught, I told myself.

She had a Jim Lee body but more of a J. Scott Campbell Danger Girl face, all upturned little nose, smirky mouth and large, pretty blue eyes. She was very cute and very cute goes a long way with me.

I walked up to her and she offered a hand.

“Thank you Mr. Farrar for coming out, we appreciate it,” she said, smiling. She had a good, strong handshake.

“Please. Call me William,” I said. Suave.

We went up the steps and stood in the archway of the massive wooden front door. It looked like oak. It probably weighed more then my ride.

I threw a thumb back over my shoulder in the direction of my car-washing pal and said, “Friendly guy.”

Jessica rolled her eyes and lowered her voice, though we were a good distance away. “Rick. Yeah, he’s not a warm and fuzzy guy. My dad knew his dad and gave him a job.” She lowered her voice even more and shook her head. ”I’m not a fan.”

I chuckled and then motioned to her outfit. “So… going bowling?”

She laughed and it wasn’t a polite one like from the phone conversation but a good, heartfelt one. “Yes, I thought I’d sneak a few frames in. And then maybe - just MAYBE - I’d try a little tennis.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

She laughed again and seemed to completely relax. She looked looser, more comfortable.

“Wow. You’ve been here, what? Thirty seconds? And you’re a billion times more likable than the last guy dad called in. He was creepy as shit.” Then she blushed and ducked her head. “Excuse my language.” she said, clearly embarrassed.

I smiled and said, “Not a problem.” Woman cursing never bothered me. My mother swore like a sailor. But it was the other thing she had said that was interesting.

“The last guy?” I asked. “Who was that?”

She seemed to tighten up a little again. “I better let my father tell you all that. Come on. He’s in the sunroom.”

Sunroom.

We walked through the big oak door and into the foyer which was a little smaller than my whole apartment and then down a cool, tile lined hall. A massive set of stairs to my right climbed upwards, probably to the rest of the museum. On the left, after the entrance to a giant living room or sitting room or whatever the hell they called it, we came to pictures in large frames adorning the walls. One caught my eye and I stopped. It was a photograph of two women smiling, both sitting across from each other in ornate chairs. They were holding hands and looking into the camera. They both seemed genuinely happy. They were identically dressed in rose colored blouses and dark skirts, their hair and jewelry exactly the same. Jessica looked just like, well, both of them. She gazed at the photograph for a second, a small smile on her face.

“My mother. And my aunt. This will stun you but… they were twins.”

I gave faux amazement. “No! More crazy talk.”

She gave a smaller laugh this time and seemed to lose herself in the photo for a second. “My mother died in a car accident 6 years ago.” She almost whispered. “ And my aunt, well…. she just seemed to not care after that. It sounds corny but… she just lost the will to live, it seemed. She was gone 4 months later.”

I’d lost both of my parents and I know what that empty feeling is like. When you lose your mother especially, you almost feel like the rope that connected you to everything was gone. “I’m sorry.”

She smiled a little. “It’s not your fault.” Then a serious look crossed her face. “Wait. It’s not your fault, is it?”

She had me for a second but I caught on. “No, I swear.” I said, hands rose. “Not my fault. I promise!”

She laughed again and seemed better. “Oh, good. Cause then we would have a problem.” She started down the hall again. I chuckled and followed. Funny girl.

We headed back farther into the house, through an amazing kitchen and back further still, until I could see the expansive back yard. It had to be at least 30 yards deep and almost that wide. About forty feet back from the house in the shade of an enormous tree was a beautiful wooden gazebo, big enough for maybe ten people to sit in comfortably. I could see myself out there on nice days, reading, having a drink, relaxing, with a nice breeze keeping me cool. Unfortunately a gazebo in my backyard was probably not in my near future. Actually, a backyard was probably not in my near future. I took another look at it and kept following.

We turned left and then right again and entered a glass and aluminum addition to the house. The sunroom. You could look up and see the sky where it showed between the canopy of leaves over it. There were tons of plants in the sunroom, tall exotic looking ones that reached almost to the angled ceiling, soaking up the filtered sunlight. In the right hand corner of the room there was a glass table that sat between two bamboo chairs with thick beige cushions. And in one of the chairs sat a man.

“Dad?” said Jessica as we approached. “This is William Farrar. William, this is my father, Coleman Chandler.”

He seemed impossibly old to me, especially to have a daughter so young. Chandler sat with his spindly legs straight out, his hands on his lap. He was very thin. The sky blue sweater he wore seemed at least three sizes too big and the collar of the white shirt under came up and out like the wings on a big paper plane. The age spotted skin of his hands and face seemed stretched way too tight over his bones and skull. His nose was thin and sharp, jutting out almost defiantly at you. The mouth was a chisel cut in white plaster, just barely pink on the edges. He still had hair but it was bone white and combed back on his head. It was thicker than I would have thought, rising up and then back, not just lying on his skull like thread. But his eyes… even from where I was standing I could see that his eyes radiated life and energy. They were a clear blue like his daughter’s but even more sharp and piercing. A lot was going on behind there. This dude still had his faculties. Almost as if to illustrate that, Chandler got up quickly from his seat and stuck out a hand.

“Mr. Farrar. A pleasure to meet you.”

“Please,” I said, shaking his hand. “Call me Will.”

He gave me a good strong handshake and then sat again, motioning towards the other seat. I took him up on his offer. I was pleasantly surprised that he had no reaction to me being black. I’ve watched people embarrass themselves by trying too hard not to acknowledge it or by saying something that stupidly pointed it out. But Chandler seemed to not be surprised or have any issue with it. Maybe he knew already. I liked to think that he didn’t.

“Would you like something, Will? A drink? A snack?” asked Jessica.

“No, I’m good, thank you.” I settled deeper into the thick cushion. This chair was seriously comfortable. The room was a nice temperature, not too warm, not too cool. It was quiet except for our voices. If Mr. Chandler nodded off during our chat I probably wouldn’t be too far behind him.

“Ok, well, then I’m off. “said Jessica. She took a little swing with the racket and struck a pose. “Strike!”

She and I laughed and then laughed even more at Mr. Chandler’s confused look. After she walked out, Chandler looked at me and said, “I love her to pieces but sometimes I don’t understand her at all.”

I smiled at that and then we started talking about comic art.

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