I was eager to get back to Avalon, but Wednesday was an absolutely miserable day. A front came through while I was walking the wheel; the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and it hadn’t exactly been a mild summer day before. I made it inside before a driving rain began slashing at the window glass. A limb that should have been pruned long ago started whacking up against the bedroom window, making me wonder every time a particularly hard gust hit if it was going to break. Even the thought of Sabrina’s wit and a Peckerwood’s breakfast couldn’t get me out in that crap. I skipped the oatmeal and went straight to a bowl of canned clam chowder, eating it standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the storm. Pretending I was one of those 19th Century New England mariners like that famous statue in Gloucester, clutching the wheel and braving the weather in my oilskins.
So it was search the computer day.
Going through your own computer is a thankless task; someone else’s is even worse. Every once in a while I’m searching for a document from a few months before and end up appalled at all the junk there on my hard disk. Then I spend thirty minutes deleting files before I get bored with the whole process. Fortunately, George didn’t have a million files on his like most of us do—he actually kept his hard drive as clean as his email inbox.
So a process that I had allocated two days actually took about four hours. I didn’t find much, although I did discover an earlier draft of the letter he’d left for Adeline—if I’d have gotten around to this task earlier, I’d have found it before getting the hand written version from the lawyer (I was just as glad I didn’t). Considering how spare his files were, I wondered if he’d left it as a back-up in case nobody ever got around to asking his lawyer for it.
I also ran across three poems that George had written to his mystery woman. Under the sacred mantra of protecting my sources, I am absolutely not going to share those. George may have been a success in the business world, a first rate handyman, a remarkable painter for one who took it up so late in life, and quite the stud with mysterious women, but he was a horrid poet. I guess nobody ever mentioned to him that in modern poetry, every two lines didn’t have to rhyme, or that every rhyme didn’t have to be perfect. Or if you did write in couplets with every rhyme perfect, you should never ever conclude a line with “succulent,” and then have to stand on your head so that the next line could end in “truculent.”
This led me to a small ethical dilemma: did a ‘complete and thorough investigation’ include showing these to Adeline? Or did I owe George some professional courtesy here? In the end I distilled my quandary down a variant of the Golden Rule: if you were missing and this was your computer that someone was rummaging through, what would you want them to do? That made it easy: I deleted the files. You’re welcome, George.
The rain slacked off for a bit during the mid-afternoon, long enough for me to find a limb saw out in the garage and get rid of the branch, although if it hadn’t broken the window by now it probably wasn’t going to. And check the mail while I was out.
And there was a letter from Lacey.
Dear Mr. Whittaker,
I received your note with fondness and curiosity. I will be one of the featured artists at a show at the Long Beach Gallery on Hilton Head Island this month, and will be attending an opening night reception there from 6 to 9 pm on Saturday night, November 16th. I’m certain that, despite the hoards of my adoring followers who will doubtless flock there, we may be able to snatch a moment to discuss your questions about George Foster.
The letter was written on expensive cream-colored stationery with c/o Windows to the Soul Art Gallery as the return address.
That gave me an impetus to call Chai. I’d left a message on Monday that she hadn’t returned, and with nothing more to say I hadn’t gotten around to calling again.
“Ah, Rick. Lovely to hear your voice. I was going to dial you up tonight, now that the, um, shall we just call it delicious soreness has worn off some.”
How the hell do you respond to that? With an uncomfortable second or two of silence before, “And a rainy good afternoon to you, Chai. How are those chakras?”
“Well, some of them are nicely cleansed, thank you very much.”
“Hey, listen. I just got a letter from Lacey the artist lady, and she’s having a show on Hilton Head this Saturday night. Want to go with me to check it out and hopefully meet her? We can go early and grab a bite to eat afterward if that works for you.”
“Well, the weather is much too dreadful to get back out to your magical island and re-experience first-hand the power of Beltane. So I suppose a pilgrimage to an art gallery will have to do.”
We agreed on a time and repartee’d a bit more before I managed to get off the phone, feeling a little like the goldfish does when the cat is pressing its nose up against the glass. Or more accurately, when the cougar is pressing her nose up against the glass. I mean, you can’t live in the 21st century and not at least be aware of the phenomenon. I’d seen a couple of TV shows saluting the breed, and confess to envying Ashton Kutcher being snared by the ultimate cougar, but this was my first experience with an older woman. It looked like I was going to have to give up some of the relationship control that I’d always enjoyed in exchange for getting laid a lot.
Seemed like an easy choice, but the jury was still out.
I hadn’t been off the phone for more than ten minutes when Tatum called.
“Rick, you sly dog. I didn’t know when I referred Chai to you that you were going to use her pitilessly and then break her heart.”
“I miss you too, Tatum. It’s so good to hear your voice.”
“I thought this was going to be a professional relationship. And how come you haven’t called her?”
“Better update your grapevine, Tatum. That’s so ten minutes ago. As a matter of fact, we have a date on Saturday.”
“Ah. Well, I guess you’re off the hook. Although three days not to hear from a guy you’ve fallen hopelessly for is a long time.”
“I left a message and she didn’t call me back either. In this age of sexual equality, how come it’s all my responsibility?”
Tatum didn’t respond, so I continued.
“And besides, if Chai’s convinced you that she’s fallen for me and I’m using her, you need to attune your awareness chakra. Didn’t you promise that she wouldn’t be casting magick on me? I think that qualifies as false advertising.”
Tatum’s voice lightened a bit. “She can be a bit much, can’t she?”
“You got that right.”
“Well, it’s good to know that you kids are having fun and getting along. Bye.”
Like I said, the jury’s still out.