“Good morning, Miz Adeline. Good to see you, Rick. Y’all come on in. Woo-wee. Didn’t we kick some serious Yankee ass down in the Gator Bowl?” Dave Rickles pumped my hand like I was a long-lost college drinking buddy, not a client’s representative he’d only met once. Seemed to prove once again that the way to a man’s heart was through his cock, particularly if it was a Gamecock.
“Only been a month, and I can’t even remember who we whupped. Illinois, maybe? The Fighting Illini? What on God’s green earth is an Illini, anyway? I get right down on my knees every night and thank The Man Upstairs I wasn’t born a Yankee.”
Good to see Ol’ Dave was his same old irrepressible self. I mean, if you can’t count on xenophobia, what can you count on?
“So, how’s our basketball team doing, Mr. Rickles? Any chance of making it to the big dance this year?”
“Basketball? What the hell is basketball? If man was meant to play serious games with round balls, we’d all be watching soccer instead of football like those long-haired Euros do.”
Southern male in the finest tradition. Truthfully, USC’s best sport was baseball. We—the term was technically correct although I confess not to be in the same league of impassioned alumni as Dave Rickles and didn’t normally consider Carolina sports teams as ‘we’—had won two national championships in baseball in the last four years. Whereas I doubted the Gamecocks would win the SEC in my lifetime, with perennial powerhouses Alabama, Florida, and LSU squarely in the way. But I’d just been goading him on and decided not to add the indignity of baseball to the pot.
“Sit down, sit down. What brings me the pleasure of y’all’s visit today?”
“I think I have it all worked out,” I answered once we were settled. “The next part of the puzzle. I think George Foster had serious doubts if he would survive the attempt to cross over. So I believe he made the condition for giving us the next piece of information some evidence that he didn’t die.”
I steepled my fingers and looked suitably grave, since what I was going to say next was purely a matter of faith. “Well, I have seen George Foster, and he is definitely alive.” Didn’t enumerate what few doubts I had on that opinion, either. “So now you can give us the rest of what you have been holding for him.”
“George is alive? You saw him? Where?”
“Before I say anything more, we need some client-attorney privilege here. As I understand the law, nothing that I reveal would be protected by your being George’s attorney. Correct?” Mr. Rickles nodded his reluctant agreement. “So let’s get Ms. Foster to put you on retainer first.”
What lawyer ever turned down a fee? There were pre-printed forms ready to be filled out and signed; we didn’t even require a secretary’s assistance. Adeline wrote a check for $300 to seal our bargain of silence.
Once the formalities were completed, I told the entire story. Not unexpectedly, Mr. Rickles looked pretty dubious about the whole thing. So I idly picked up a bright plastic Gamecock off his desk and toyed with it while I told the story, hoping the association made what I was saying more believable.
“Ms. Foster and I are going out to the island on Beltane, which is at the end of April. She has a plan to communicate with her father by writing on pads if we can’t speak directly. But obviously we want as much information as we can get before then so we’ll be prepared for whatever comes up.”
Mr. Rickles shook his head as if his ears were buzzing. “Well, that’s the damnedest tale I’ve ever heard. But then this whole thing has been that way from the beginning. His exact instructions were, ‘Give this to my daughter or her representative whenever they report that they have seen me walking around.’ There’s no doubt in my mind this qualifies. He didn’t even ask me to verify if you were telling the truth or not. So here you go.” He reached in his desk drawer and pulled out an envelope with “Adeline Foster or her Representative” handwritten on the front and handed it to me. Since I doubted he’d kept it there for the past six years, he’d obviously anticipated the point of our appointment, even if he’d put on the “what brings me the pleasure of your visit today” façade. Or maybe he’d been on guard to prevent me from tricking him like I’d done before.
I handed the envelope to Adeline, but she shook her head. So I slid my finger along under the seal and removed the contents. A safety deposit box key and a card from the First National Bank of Beaufort with the number “931” written on the back.
I showed our treasures to Adeline, then dropped them back in the envelope and leaned back. “So, Mr. Rickles, as Ms. Foster’s counsel, we need a legal opinion. Assuming that we don’t discover something different on April 30th, does the fact that George Foster is ‘alive’”—I made the air quotes with my hands—“in some other world or some other time change his legal standing as far as declaring him dead?”
Mr. Rickles started coughing like a chunk of meat had gone down the wrong passage. I started to perform the Heimlich maneuver before realizing that he couldn’t choke on a concept, no matter how thorny. Adeline sat quietly, hands folded, waiting for him to recover.
He eventually excused himself to get a drink. “I’m assuming that you have a reason for that question,” Adeline deadpanned as soon as he left, effectively hiding whatever turmoil she might be feeling.
“If your father has no intention of ever returning to the here and now, his status is no different from ‘missing presumed dead,’ even if he’s not actually dead.” I had a brainstorm and added, “Even if you can visit him four times a year. So closing out his legal affairs just cleans that part of your life up.”
“Visit him four times a year,” Adeline repeated dully. “That’s an interesting concept. I’ll have to think on that some more, see how I feel about it.”
“I predict you’ll feel differently after you see your father. So my advice is, don’t make any decisions before then.”
About that time Mr. Rickles came back in, holding a can of 7-Up. “Sorry, you caught me totally by surprise there. I think, as Ms. Foster’s lawyer, we should proceed as if he were missing presumed dead. Mentioning that he’s alive in some other dimension will royally screw up the legal proceedings and make me a lot more money, but I’m not that hard up. So for $300 we’ll just protect that by attorney-client privilege and keep it to ourselves.”
“That was my thought as well. So having delivered this last envelope, does that mean you’re no longer George Foster’s lawyer?”
“Well, I suppose that’s true. I can honestly say—not that you necessarily want an honest lawyer,” we all dutifully chuckled, “that I’ve now earned all the fees he prepaid. And being Ms. Foster’s attorney instead of George’s would remove any possible conflict of interest. So, yes.”
“Excellent. Well, we’re off to check out the safety deposit box.”
The bank was right around the corner, a two minute walk. “So how are you holding up, Ms. Foster? Need to take a break before we open the safety deposit box?”
“Nope.” Adeline’s teeth were clinched, so it’s a miracle the word got out. But then she relaxed a little. “I’m OK. What do you suppose we’re going to find?”
“I could speculate and enhance my status greatly if I’m right, but the chances of that are pretty small. So why don’t we wait ten minutes and just see for ourselves?”
Ten minutes was a tad optimistic, but the seeing for ourselves happened soon enough. In the safety deposit box was a plain small bound journal and three slightly misshapen coins, obviously very old.
Adeline gently picked up the coins and held them up for a closer look, then held them out to me. “What do you suppose these are?”
“I think these, along with the brooch, are objects that the golden-haired woman gave to George by leaving them on the ground for him. If she is indeed Nimue, which I intend to find out once and for all on Beltane, then they would probably be Roman coins minted before the Romans left the British Isles. No doubt they’re valuable, but I have no idea if that means $50 each or $5000.”
I was more interested in the book, which turned out, as I’d suspected as soon as I saw it, to be a journal detailing George’s exploration of the connection between Avalon, S.C. and the Otherworld.