Things happened fast after Sonia died. Hart had slept all night on top of his wife’s cold, dead body, holding the hand of the child he would never meet in life. Weaving in and out of consciousness, he recalled only fragments, dreams indistinguishable from reality. He landed in a dark, terrible place, blacker than the bottom of any ocean, a place that even the full light of day would be hard-pressed to illuminate. And there he saw Sonia and it terrified him, because she was dead, because an ocean of space and time now rippled between them.
But like most missives from the unconscious, unless you pull them to wakefulness, they languish in fallow ground, the seeds unplanted. If the key to Sonia’s death lay in Hart’s dreams, he’d be damned if he could piece together their meanings, and when the cold shock of morning came and the dream proved reality, Hart looked up to see the ashen face of his father-in-law standing above him while Hart lay prostrate, still strewn across two dead bodies.
For a moment he thought he might be accused. “I don’t know what happened.”
“It’s alright,” Bicky said, his voice surprising Hart with its tenderness. He pulled Hart to his feet, handed him a glass of water and a glass of scotch and sat him on the couch with both glasses and a tenuous hold on reality. Then Bicky attended to the details of clean up.
Hart was in an acute state of shock and asked precious few questions himself. By the time Bicky’s personal physician had administered Hart a healthy injection of morphine, “for the shock,” Hart was so confounded by pain and medication that he hadn’t the presence of mind to ask what in God’s name Bicky was doing there. He passed out just as the men in black from the funeral home carried the shroud-wrapped bodies from the house on a stretcher.
The physician’s face ebbed and flowed like the tide before Hart’s eyes. Hart wasn’t sure how long he lay between the worlds. Maybe hours, maybe days. He awoke from the sleep of the dead, ravenously hungry and with a headache that wouldn’t quit. Bicky’s physician offered him Valium, but Hart refused, choosing a blinding headache over just being blind. After a shower and a bit of lunch — apparently he’d been out for days and having eaten no food in that time, his stomach had shrunk – a car appeared driven by Bicky’s chauffeur, Manuel. The last thing Hart clearly remembered was Manuel driving him home that night.
“I’m sorry for you, Mr. Hart,” Manuel said into the rearview mirror, turning away before their eyes met. With over thirty years in, Manuel qualified for the list of people who spent most of their lifetime working for Bicky Coleman. Hart nodded, accepting the genuine grief Manuel offered, and turned to look out the window as his own tears gathered.
Kitty insisted the wake be held at the Coleman estate in the rich suburbs of Houston. Overcome with grief, she lost herself in the details. It was a major undertaking, a wake of massive proportions, with over five hundred guests in attendance. Sonia was very active in the philanthropic community, a member of the Jr. League, and on several local boards, and everyone that worked for Bicky knew and loved Sonia in her own right. It seemed that all of Houston had turned out for her funeral and for that of the poor, unfortunate child.
As the day wound down, Hart sought refuge in Bicky’s study. Exhausted from a day of laughing, crying, and occasionally throwing up, he sat, hands clasped, staring at his feet. A fire had been lit against the fall chill and Hart breathed the subtle whiffs of wood smoke into his lungs. A murmured conversation was taking place in the hallway. He ignored the chatter at first, but something about the strangled urgency of the words made him perk up and listen as, through the doorway, the parties came into view. Bicky had Jerry Dixon by the lapel of his expertly tailored suit, the two men locked in a battle of wills, their voices low to maintain secrecy.
“You haven’t done a damn thing to figure this all out, have you?” Bicky asked. “I should have fired you a long time ago.”
“I should have quit a long time ago.” Jerry looked murderous. He grabbed Bicky’s wrist, forcing him to release the vice-grip he held on Jerry’s collar, and tossed the unwanted appendage aside like it were a slug.
Hart shifted and his chair creaked, calling their attention. Bicky noted Hart’s figure, silhouetted before the fire, and motioned to Jerry to leave.
He entered the room without saying a word, flopped into his overstuffed armchair and stared into the flame as if he were the only person on earth. After several minutes, he turned to Hart, eyes wet with tears. Hart narrowed his eyes at his father-in-law. He hadn’t formed words, or even the idea yet, but something in David’s heart knew. Bicky Coleman, practiced in the art of delusion, of bending people to his will, was hiding something. Hart involuntarily braced himself for Bicky’s onslaught which in his current state he knew he couldn’t defend. Bicky made a show of drying his eyes before speaking.
“I want you to go down to the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a rig that’s been waiting for repairs for a while now.”
Hart took a deep breath. Whatever he thought Bicky was going to say, it had nothing to do with work. He searched Bicky’s face, trying to divine his true motives, but as always, it was a blank sheet of paper.
“You’re telling me about work now?”
“Work’s the best thing for you right now,” Bicky said. He cleared his throat. “EPA inspected the rig while you were out.” There was a wryness in Bicky’s voice that made it sound as if Hart had been on vacation as opposed to mostly unconscious. “They say we’ve got some uncontrolled leakage. And we need a better SPCC Plan.”
Hart stared at the tongue in groove floor. Sonia had wanted him to lay a new one in their dining room – him, not a contractor, because of his skill with wood and intricate designs. A hexagon pattern. That’s what she’d wanted.
Hart looked up to find Bicky staring at him. “Spill Pollution Control and Countermeasures Plan,” he said, as if trying it remind himself. “It’s mandatory for anyone dealing with oil. And water.” He rubbed his hands together as if for warmth. “I’m just not sure that I’m going to go back. What with this…” he choked back the emotion and fell silent.
Bicky grunted. “Why? Because Sonia wanted you to quit?” He waved a hand in the air as if to sweep all of life’s little details away and wiped his eyes with the other. “Well, that hardly matters now.” He stood and walked over to the desk where a decanter and four glasses sat. Hart noted with satisfaction, Bicky’s hunched shoulders and slow, careful gate, a sure sign that his father-in-law was exhausted. The vivacious Bicky Coleman seemed to have aged overnight to reveal a chink in the armor of his unflappable demeanor. Bicky poured two glasses, measuring a couple jiggers in each, and tossed in some ice. The fire reflected off the dark amber liquid splashing and winking in the glass as Bicky crossed the room and handed a glass to Hart. “You have nothing left to you, my boy, but work. Join the club.” Bicky drained his glass and stood staring at his son-in-law.
“If you want to take some time off, you have plenty coming to you,” Bicky said.
Hart raised his glass to his lips and sniffed. He downed the whiskey in two gulps and handed it to Bicky. He swallowed the lump in his throat and swiped at his eyes.
Bicky poured two more glasses.
“The last time we talked about it I told her that by this time next year I’d be done with oil. I told her I needed to work it out with you, though. Didn’t want to leave you high and dry.” Hart gripped the sides of the armchair as if at any minute it might take off. Bicky returned with another round, handed it to him, and sat down. The men sipped their drinks silently for several minutes.
“Now it really doesn’t really matter what I do. I just know I can’t stay in that house.” Hart hunched over his glass and stared at the fire.
“She sat right there, you know. The night she died. She came over for dinner. It was the best time we’d had in years.” Bicky rubbed his forehead and eyebrows; his drooping shoulders revealing his anguish, his tight, pinched face. A small moan emanated from his throat and he looked around as if startled by the noise.
“We didn’t get along that well, I know. But she was my daughter.” Bicky’s face was half in shadow, half illuminated by dancing fire light. Any doubts that Hart had as to Bicky’s true feelings were dispelled the instant he looked into Bicky’s eyes and saw the profundity of his sorrow.
Having shot his emotional wad over the course of the last few days, Hart’s initial impulse was to leave, but unseen forces had him rooted to the chair. He drained his glass, the alcohol working its magic on him, and stared at his shoes.
“Why don’t you stay here tonight?” Bicky asked. He grabbed the decanter and refilled both their glasses. Hart swished the whiskey around in his glass before draining it. He let his head loll against the high-backed leather chair, closed his eyes and waited for oblivion to find him.
to be continued. . .
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