Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Envoy: A Christmas Serial. Part Twenty

I slept into the early afternoon, and woke up to the ringing of the telephone. It was my father, sounding like he was calling from the moon.

“Well?” he said.

“A will turned up,” I heard myself say.

My father, of course, wanted details, and I provided him with them.

“There was one in his safety deposit box at the bank,” I said. “And it turns out he also had one on file at the city clerk’s office.”

“And?” my father said.

I could picture him sitting there somewhere on the other side of the world, chewing on the cap of a ballpoint pen and clenching and unclenching his jaw.

“Good news, bad news, I guess,” I said.

“Give me the bad news first,” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said, “maybe you’ll see this as bad news all around. I’m not sure, really, how to read it.”

I heard him exhale loudly. “David, let’s hear it.”

“He apparently left everything to Santo,” I said. “But it’s complicated. It turns out he’s got a lot of debt and very little money in the bank.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. He never could handle money.”

“Well, he also still owed money on his building, and supposedly the bank has a lien on the bar downstairs, which I’m told is the only thing he owned that has any actual value.”

“Jesus, David. I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess. Is there anything left to do there?”

“I think it’s now a matter of Santo wrangling with the bank,” I said. “I’m told we could contest the will, if you think you might get anything out of it.”

“Shit, no,” my father said. “I don’t intend to set foot in that town ever again. I’m not contesting anything. You should just go ahead and get your stuff in the car and leave. Save us all any further headaches and let those people sort it out. With any luck that guy won’t have a pot to piss in when the dust settles.”

“I’m not interested in seeing anyone get screwed over.”

“It sounds like it’s too late for that,” he said. “Get the hell out of there.”

I realized as I sat there listening to my father’s voice that I had no idea what was going on in his head. There were a whole lot of things that we would never see eye-to-eye on.

“I got it, dad,” I said.

“How are you holding up?”

“I’m really tired.”

“All right, then, I’ll let you go. I’m sorry, David. Really, I am. Are you ok for money?”

I told him that I was fine.

“All right, then,” he said. “Thanks for everything, and I’ll see you soon.”

“When will that be?”

“I really don’t have a good idea yet,” he said, “but I’ll drop you a line when I know.”

“Good enough,” I told him, and we exchanged our usual awkward goodbyes.

I pulled on some clothes and my jacket and went across to the convenience store for a cup of coffee and a copy of USA Today. I was sitting on the bed reading the paper when someone called from the funeral home to tell me that my grandfather’s cremains were ready to be picked up.

I sat around and finished the paper and then dialed Bob Porter’s office. Porter answered the phone himself, on the first ring. If he had a secretary or any other help around there I’d seen no evidence of it.

“I just had a long phone conversation with my father,” I told Porter. “We’re essentially in agreement that whatever we’re looking at here is more than we want to get involved with right now. We’re meddling, and whatever property or money is at stake isn’t of any interest or importance to my father.”

“Be that as it may,” Porter said. “It’s certainly of value.”

“My father doesn’t need the money.”

“How about you? Your father –or his lawyer—has delegated you to act on the family’s behalf.”

“I don’t want the money either. And, quite honestly, I don’t have the time or patience to deal with any of this right now. I need to get back to Chicago.”

I could picture Porter there in his cluttered little hovel of an office, bouncing around in his chair and guzzling Shasta soda.

“I see,” he said. “And what do you propose as a solution?”

“What would you propose?”

“I guess I’d propose we draw up papers naming some person or persons –or an institution, if you’d prefer—as the beneficiary of your grandfather’s estate.”

“Is this who would get everything once the smoke has cleared?” I asked.

“Yes, in all likelihood.”

“Give it to Santo,” I told him.

Later that afternoon I went out to my car in the motel parking lot and found an envelope secured in a Ziploc baggy and tucked under one of my windshield wipers. Inside I found a snapshot of my grandfather brandishing a putter as if it were a sword and lunging at a group of laughing schoolchildren. An old Risk game card was paperclipped to the photo, along with a Post-It note on which was written, in looping cursive, “Joy really isn’t all that dangerous. Risk everything.”

I drove down to Porter’s office and signed some papers on my way to pick up my grandfather’s ashes. Porter was his usual agitated, off-putting self. He was still putting the finishing touches on the paperwork when I arrived, pecking away at an old manual typewriter.

“No matter what anybody tries to tell you,” he said without looking up, “this is still much easier and more elegant than using a computer.”

He finally shoved the papers across the desk to me, looked at me from under his eyebrows, and said, “And you’re still sure this is all good and fine?”

“I’m sure,” I said, and started to sign.

“You’re not going to eyeball the fine print?”

“I’m assuming you’re trustworthy. Just so long as this takes me and my family off the hook, we have a deal.”

“Very good, then,” Porter said, and made a busy and inefficient production of collating the papers, paper clipping them together, and inserting them in a file folder.

I asked how much I owed him. He laughed and shook his head. “A favor to the family,” he said. “I admire your decision, however it may have been reached. It strikes me as almost honorable.”

He shook my hand, wished me well, and walked me to the door. “Give your father my best,” he said. As I was getting into my car I once again found myself oddly relieved to have escaped the man’s presence.

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