The satellite repair guy chewed on a matchstick while he delivered the verdict. “Well, Mr. Whittaker, I can’t make what you got work. It’s obsolete, and it belonged to some fly-by-night outfit that ain’t in business no more. Plus water got in the electronics.”
“So what are my options?”
“I can put you in a real nice one for free when you sign up for a year. Have you up and running by Friday at the latest. Except there’s a $79 activation fee, people get pissed if I don’t mention that.”
“That sounds perfect, except I’m not going to be here that long.”
“Well, you can buy a cheap one and install it yourself. We don’t have much in the way of handymen since George left. But it probably won’t work right and the only person who can service it is me. We charge a $75 fee every time we come out if it’s not our equipment. So in the end it’ll end up costing you more money for less TV.”
I’d already established that there wasn’t any cable out here, so I signed the papers to put in a system that I was only going to use half of, probably less. Although the way things were going in the search for Lacey, maybe not.
Adeline was more than reasonable about it when I talked to her later in the afternoon. “OK, I’ll pay the bill after you finish up. I guess that’s only fair. Can’t ask a city slicker to live in the country without ESPN, now can we?” A little touch of her signature bell-like giggle that I’d been looking forward to hearing again. “What else have you got to report?”
I described my trips to the galleries. “At the time that he disappeared, your father was pulling in around $1400/month on his paintings. Most of that came from the high-end gallery in Beaufort.”
“Wow. I had no idea. I checked with Merrill Lynch to see if there was an automatic deposit to his checking, but there wasn’t. I just assumed he took out what he needed.”
“Hmm. He had a deposit coming in the 16th of every month, which had to have been automatic. So he must have stopped it himself.”
“One more piece of evidence that whatever he did, he did it on purpose.” I could hear the tension in her voice, even over the phone.
“By the way, the owner of the Low Country Gallery in Beaufort asked if I would see if there was anything else you wanted to sell. So I went through the studio yesterday. The only thing he would be interested in was your father’s sketchbooks, which I don’t recommend getting rid of. At least not until all this is over and we’ve put it all together.”
I realized that didn’t make any sense, and I wasn’t sure how to start. So I just launched in.
“I’m not sure how any of this fits in with anything else. Your father painted for several years, producing paintings with a skill commiserate with a talented amateur. Then in April 2003, he produced a painting of a pregnant, golden-haired woman that blew away the gallery owner. In fact, he was so moved that he purchased it himself, plus another of the same woman later. There’s also one hanging in your father’s bedroom, along with an unfinished work in his studio.”
Adeline didn’t reply, so I forged ahead. “The sketchbook has dozens of studies of that woman. It also shows a fascination he had with an island starting some time before the woman showed up. He called the island Avalon, or at least that’s the title of a painting he did of it.”
“Avalon is that island from the King Arthur story, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And that’s another thing. Your father has dozens of books on King Arthur, and many more about pagan and druid mysticism. Did you ever hear him talk about his fascination with the topic?”
“One time when I was visiting him, he launched into this story about the death of King Arthur and I didn’t get it all straight but it was strange to hear him so animated about anything. And then it was like he hit his word limit, he just quit.” She laughed, but without the bell. “That was absolutely typical of my father the whole time I was growing up. It’s like words were too valuable to use too many of them.”
I told him about my conversation with the sheriff and his conviction that George had disappeared on purpose. “By the way, he said your father’s lawyer was hiding something. I haven’t had a chance to talk with him yet. Or better to say, it hasn’t made it to the top of the priority list yet. But I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks now.” I kept to myself the lawyer’s suspicion that her father might have killed himself.
Ah, there was the bell giggle. “What lawyer isn’t hiding something? So, what’s at the top of the priority list now?”
“Finding Lacey.” I related the results of my search so far, which when you got right down to it consisted of an occupation and a last name. “She’s apparently some privacy freak, because nobody will tell me a thing about her. Not even if she’s the same woman as in the paintings.”
“The pregnant woman? You think Daddy ran off because he’d fathered a child?”
“Possible, but unlikely. The first sketches show her as already pretty far along in her pregnancy. Plus, if that were so, why would he leave the money untouched? That makes no sense.”
“Yes, and everything Daddy ever did made sense. That’s why all of this is so damned confusing.”
I decided she’d had enough for one day, so I kept my upcoming trip out to the island secret. I was sure she’d OK the expense after the fact, particularly considering how fair she’d been about the satellite. And I wouldn’t go broke if she didn’t. Adeline asked if I would come make my next report in person, and bring the paintings and the sketchbook along.
After I hung up I went back in the studio, turned the unfinished painting back around, and stared at it for a long time.
Wednesday morning I came very close to asking Sabrina out, but something stopped me. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but knew somehow that it would mess things up if I did. I added it onto my personal list to find somebody to ask about Sabrina, since that was the only thing I couldn’t ask her about.
After breakfast I buckled down to the task of going through the credit card receipts. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. George used his credit card mostly to order art supplies or books from the internet, occasionally to eat out or buy something in Beaufort or Hilton Head.
I made myself go through the receipts in reverse chronological order, teasing myself with the anticipation of March 2004 as I did. That might surprise some—many who don’t know me well think of me as a man dedicated to the immediate gratification of appetites. Alas, I’m both proud and a little sad to say, Missy Pierson is the exception rather than the rule. But I was pretty fidgety by the time I finished April, 2004 and opened the next folder.
The payment of $6147 was to Stedman’s Jewelry in Charleston.
I was utterly baffled by that revelation. I was prepared for an outboard motor or a major purchase of art supplies. But jewelry?
It threw me for such a loop that I put the files down and went out to walk the wheel. I hadn’t told Tatum about the wheel, but I’ll confess it here: it’s a new and exciting experience for me. Not that I’m in danger of becoming spiritual or anything crazy like that. But I walked it this morning between coffee and Sabrina, trying to follow the instructions about clearing your mind of everything and being open to revelation. I discovered that I couldn’t do that for shit, and yet even so, it’s amazingly relaxing. Not to mention that it’ll give me something to talk to the witch about.
Halfway through, when I was standing in the west, it came to me. West is the spirit of water, although in my wheel it faced away from the water. It is also the direction from which darkness comes, and represents change, dreams, and the unknown. Don’t know which of those spirits spoke to me, but the notion appeared unbidden in my mind that the money went for an engagement ring for the golden-haired woman.
I was going to finish up my walk and call the jewelry store, but somewhere between north and east I realized that I should just visit them in person when I went to Adeline’s house next week. That’s the sort of benefits you get from this New Age stuff: decisions like that just pop in your head.
Tomorrow I’m going to walk it while I’m thinking about Sabrina.