Dragons and Bourbon
The next morning at breakfast was nothing unusual. It was too soon for me to get any information back from my inquiries yesterday, so I decided to go to the office. “I’m going out for a while. Call me if anything unusual happens,” I told Alma. Then I turned to Gerald. “Do you have the keys for the Toyota?”
“I can go get it for you,” he told me.
“No need. I’ll get it myself.” I took the keys from him and went out through the front door. It took less than five minutes to walk back to the garage and retrieve the RAV4. I sure did miss my Mustang. I wondered if she’d ever be the same.
Less than an hour later (not bad for morning traffic) I was at the office. I parked in front and walked in, a smile on my face. “Good morning, Robin,” I told her cheerily as I came through the door.
She eyed me warily and muttered, “Hello.” I went straight to my office and her eyes followed me all the way in. I looked at the expense reports and wrote us both checks, then set those aside and proceeded to pay the bills that had piled up on my desk. Telephone, electric, cell phones, internet, rent and Robin’s salary. I tacked a one-hundred-dollar bonus on to her check, for having to sit here by herself and man the fort ever since I’d taken the Cortez job. Then I put them all in their envelopes, made sure they were addressed properly, and put the return address on them. I put Robin’s expense check and salary in a white envelope and took the whole pile out to get stamps. “Robin, do you have . . . “
“Stamps?” she finished. “Sure.” I handed her the envelope with her checks and she started to put it away.
“I think you better check that and make sure it’s right,” I told her.
She looked kind of disgruntled and pulled the envelope back out. Two minutes later she was asking me, “What’s that for?”
“That’s a bonus for having to be here all alone since I took this last job. Thank you for handling everything so beautifully.”
She broke into a big smirk. “Who are you?” she asked me.
“I’m the edgy curmudgeon, remember?”
I’d almost left her speechless. Finally she mumbled, “Thank you,” and put stamps on all the bills.
“Are you busy this morning?”
She shook her head. “No, not really.”
“Can you help me clean out Eddie’s office?”
“Are you sure?” she asked quickly.
“I’m sure,” was my just as swift reply.
I opened the door for her and she flipped on the lights. The blinds were still open from the last time I’d been in there. I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before – the room smelled like Eddie. “Do you have any boxes?”
“In the storage room. I’ll get them,” she explained, and disappeared back out the door. I sat down at Eddie’s desk and opened the middle drawer. I was immediately hit in the face by all the little knick-knacks and souvenirs Eddie kept. His FBI badge, a pack of chewing gum, his lighter (Eddie still smoked on occasion), spare business cards, and a note from his mother, written on the first day of Simon and Winchester, LLC I read the note and shook my head. It sounded exactly like Mrs. Winchester.
Tucked way back in the corner of the drawer was a picture of the two of us, taken our senior year in high school. Were we ever really that young? I shook my head and looked up with tears in my eyes as Robin came back with two boxes. “You still want to pack it up?”
“Yes, I do. It’s time. Eddie would be poking fun at us for not doing it any sooner.”
Robin laughed then, a full, deep-throated laugh. “Yes, he would.” She handed me a box and I put everything but the high school picture inside. There were some pencils and pens, but I left them in the drawer. On to the next drawer, the first on the left.
Note pads, scribbled notes, staples and a stapler, and an unopened box of Milk Duds. God only knew how long those had been in there. I threw the Milk Duds away and put everything else in the box. It was more of the same in the other two drawers, just things that you didn’t need right now but found too good to throw out. In the very bottom drawer was a framed picture of Eddie and Cynthia, the girl he was going to marry. Somewhere along the line she’d decided what Eddie did for a living was too dangerous, and she’d broken the engagement. She was at the funeral, with her new husband. She looked despondent.
Then I was left with what was on the desk. An ashtray, a cup warmer, a picture of the three of us at our first office. A framed replica of his P.I.’s license. A miniature dragon that Robin had given him. Eddie loved dragons; he said they reminded him of everything he wanted to be. Strong, independent, the ability to fly at a moment’s notice, and fire-breathing when they had to be. I set the dragon aside with the high school picture. They were both coming to live with me in the office next door.
Robin had started packing the second box. She’d taken his college diploma from the wall, his acceptance letter into the FBI, a photo of his mother and father, both gone now. A letter of commendation he’d gotten from the FBI when he saved my life from a mad-man that was engaged in a killing spree. A paint by number oil painting he’d done as a kid that was better than what most adults produced. His umbrella that still hung hopefully on his coat rack, waiting for that one longest night of rain that we hadn’t seen in months and years. That’s all that was left of my best friend. All his personal effects had been destroyed in the explosion that destroyed him, too.
Robin sat down in a chair and we both looked around the room. Not much to show for a lifetime of memories. Finally our eyes locked and I could see the tears running down her face. “It’s not fair!” she cried. “It’s just not fair.”
“That’s the hell of it, Robin. Nobody ever said it would be.”
We sat there for a while before she asked, “Is Lolly going to clean out his apartment?” Lolly was Eddie’s older sister.
“She’s been working on it. I talked to her two days ago. Once she gets everything out that she wants, she’s gonna meet us there, to see if there’s anything left that we want.”
“Oh, God, I can’t do that,” Robin protested.
“Yes, you can,” I told her. “If there’s something you want and you don’t go get it, you’ll never forgive yourself.
“I know, you’re right. It just seems so . . . final.”
“It is, honey. Eddie’s dead. He’s not coming back.” I stood up from behind the desk and in seconds I had Robin in my arms, crying for all she was worth.
“I . . . I loved . . . him. I loved him, Rick.”
“I know, baby, I loved him too.”
She shook her head, vehemently. “No. I loved him.”
It took me a minute to catch on. “Did he know?” I asked her tenderly.
“I don’t know. I told him once, but I don’t know if he believed me.”
I wrapped her in my arms and rocked her back and forth until I didn’t hear any more sobs from her. At last I understood why this had been so hard on her. She loved my partner, and now he was gone. “I’ll do everything I can to help,” I promised her.
“I know you will. I just, I just couldn’t tell you before.”
“Come with me,” I told her, taking her by the hand and leading her back into my office. I sat her down and gave her my handkerchief, which she made good use of. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“Do you still have that bottle of bourbon?”
“I do. Would you like a drink?”
I left her in the chair and went back to my desk, bottom drawer right. I pulled out the bourbon and a glass and poured her some. “You want some water?”
She shook her head. “No.” She took the glass and drank until it was gone.
“Again?” I asked.
“No. That was enough. Thank you.”
I sat and watched her for a few minutes. “Are you alright now?”
She cleared her throat and sat up straight. “Yes. I’m fine.” She was far from fine, but at least she wasn’t crying anymore.
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t know.”
“That’s the way I wanted it.”
“You keep a good secret,” I told her.
She chuckled a little. “Just remember that, in case.”
“Can I change the subject for a minute?”
Robin nodded. “Please.”
“Tell me what you know about Donahue.”
“He’s thirty five, single, has a nice laugh, and is always friendly and smiling. Everybody that works with him likes him, but for some reason the brass has it in for him. He’s been passed over for promotion twice.”
“And he hasn’t ever told you why he was passed over?”
Robin had a sad little smile on her face. “No, he hasn’t ever told me. He’s just like Eddie . . . he only tells you what he has to. Why are you asking?”
“Just curious. I haven’t ever really gotten to know him.”
Before I could say anymore my cell phone rang. “Simon.”
“Rick, it’s Alma. Lonnie insists he’s going out.”
“Keep him there, Alma. I’ll be back as soon as I can get there.” I hung up and turned back to Robin. “Will you be okay if I leave?”
“Go. The client pays the bills.”
I leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks. I’ll come back later if I can.”
I ran outside and got in the RAV4, then cranked her up all the way. In twenty minutes I was running up the steps to the mansion. “Is he still here?”
Junior came out of the living room. “Yes, she made me wait until you got back. Like I’m some five-year-old or something.”
I glared at him and shook my head. “You don’t ever learn, do you, junior?” I thought he’d be fine, but I wasn’t about to let him go, just in case. “What’s so important that you have to go out?”
“They’ve scheduled a pop quiz for English Lit and I haven’t read the latest chapter. The books in my locker at U.S.C.”
I held the door open for him. “Let’s go then.”