I was pretty much shot after Chai left. It was a veg-in-front-of-the-TV-watching-football kind of day, only I didn’t have a TV because of some fit of madness. Drove twenty miles to the first place that served beer and had the game on, only to watch the Falcons get crushed by the Saints. Not the Saints! They’d been such a convenient whipping boy, right up until Drew Bries arrived in his black-and-gold chariot. Decided on the miserable ride home to call up and get the new satellite dish installed after all. Read for a while about early Celtic society—I had no idea that they were the major ethno-linguistic tribe in Europe during the 3rd Century BC. I thought Celts meant the inhabitants of the British Isles. But I kept nodding off to sleep and waking up to read the same paragraph. So I gave up, went to bed early, and slept the sleep of the dead.
Until 3 a.m., the hour of dreams. Well, if you’re going to be plagued by dreams, be plagued by hot ones.
In this dream Chai and I were back on the island, just about where we’d been the day before, doing pretty much what we’d been doing the day before. The biggest difference was that the stones were there. The standing stones around the circle were smaller than you’d think—only about my height—but the altar stone was larger. Chai was bent across the altar, which turned out to be the perfect height for me to conduct the ol’ ritual sacrifice without bending my knees or standing on tiptoes. As I pounded away, the sounds of chanting arose, followed by my awareness of the presence of robed people in a circle in front of the stones, vocally participating in the sacrifice. Then the drums started in, pounding out a perfect rhythm to screw to.
It was the drums that woke me up, sweating profusely. I ended up taking a long shower, reading awhile, drifting back to sleep but never very deeply. Finally I just got up and started my day. Coffee, the wheel, and since Sabrina was off, oatmeal (ugh), a regimen spiritually and physically healthful but emotionally unsatisfying.
I had a 10:30 appointment with Dave Rickles, George’s lawyer. The name was so close to Don Rickles that, despite my best efforts, I’d ended up with a mental image of a short, goofy-looking academic in a bow tie. In fact, Dave was a former USC (University of South Carolina, not that bastion of football champions and liberal thought out west somewhere) linebacker, and the intervening twenty or so years hadn’t shrunk or softened him a bit. I made a mental wager that he was intimidating in court.
Then he opened his mouth. Rickles had a thick drawl more common to the S.C. interior than here on the coast, which is more a lingual melting pot. “Y’all come on in, Mr. Whittaker,” he invited after a handshake that could have been a crushing contest of manhood but, fortunately for me, wasn’t.
His office was a temple to the glory of the Gamecocks. Red leather furniture, with signed jerseys framed on one wall, a giant gamecock quilt on another. Mugs and clocks and paperweights and just about every knickknack the campus bookstore sold.
“So where did you go to school, Mr. Rickles?” He looked at me like I’d lost my mind, then realized that I was pulling his leg and broke out into loud guffaws. “Shh, don’t tell anybody. I went to Clemson but I’m too ashamed to admit it.” More chortling.
We spent the next ten minutes swapping USC stories. He had graduated years before I got there, so I lamented that I’d never gotten to see him play. “And too bad you played back before the Coach Spurrier days. That would’ve been a lot more fun.”
“Yeah. Imagine finishing in the top ten. Certainly nothing like what I experienced. We considered it a wildly successful year if we finished above 0.500 and beat Clemson.”
After we’d completed our war stories and the other requisite pleasantries I asked him, “So tell me about George Foster.”
He looked at me with a funny expression. Guarded, I’d say, but amused as well. I had no idea what was going on. “What is it that you want to know?”
“Well, on May 1st of next year, Mr. Foster will have been missing for seven years. If I understand correctly, according to South Carolina law, he can be declared dead and his will probated. So I guess, first of all, do you think he’s dead?”
“What do you think?”
Curiouser and curiouser, is what I’m thinking. “Sheriff Tate believes he’s still alive, and I guess I’m inclined to go along with that. He said you thought it was possible George had committed suicide, but I’ve not turned up anything to give that theory much credence. I can’t find a single piece of evidence that he was sick: no doctor bills, for example. Plus it’s hard to believe he’d kill himself without leaving a note of some kind for his daughter.”
When I spoke the words, “Note of some kind for his daughter,” Rickles’ eyes widened, even though he was trying to keep a poker face. Aha, Dave. I’ve got you now. I looked him straight in the eyes. “In fact, from what I’ve learned about George, I don’t think he’d up and leave without a note, either. I’m further thinking he left aforesaid note with you, along with some instructions about when you should give it to her. But he didn’t seem to be much of a game player, either. I’m guessing the instructions are to give them to her when she asks. So, Dave. If you would be so kind as to give me the note, I’ll take it to her.”
“Touchdown! By George, that’s exactly what he said would happen. Don’t know about the not liking to play games part, but you got the rest right on. Just a minute.” He rummaged around in a filing cabinet and came out with a plain white envelope addressed to Adeline Foster. “There you go, boy. Good game.”
“Do you know what it says?”
“Not a clue. Been a little tempted to peek after all this time. Didn’t expect it to take quite this long. But that was the last thing he told me. ‘And Dave, no peeking.’ Guess he knew me too well.”
“I suppose you want a copy once she’s opened it.”
“If it’s not too much trouble.”
“So when do we get to find out the rest?”
“Well, not until . . .” He caught himself just in time. “You sly devil.” Dave had passed the bar exam, and George trusted him with his mundane legal affairs, but I wouldn’t want him defending me against a murder charge. “If I didn’t know better, I swear you were a Gamecock.”
So I took the letter away, and wondered what else there was, and what the secret to getting it might be. It had been a shot in the dark to ask about the rest, but something had gnawed at my subconscious enough to get me to at least aim and shoot. Well, we’d see what the letter said tomorrow, and go from there.