Hart spent the night at his house and woke before dawn after a fitful rest. He’d slept in his and Sonia’s bed for the first time since her death and his sleep had been plagued by eerie, disconnected dreams. Now he puttered around the house, coffee in hand, walking from room to room with no apparent direction, a wide-eyed somnambulist. He looked at each room as if seeing it for the first time. After about an hour, he took a nap on the couch.
He awoke in the still early morning with a start, a vivid image of a pregnant Sonia emblazoned in his mind’s eye. He drank two full glasses of water from the kitchen tap then stood exactly over the spot where he had found her. He lay down there, hoping to embrace what remnants of her spirit were still caught in the tiles, but felt no trace of her, only the cold floor, more unsettling than a ghost. He turned over, folded his hands across his stomach and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t move for an hour.
“That’s it.” He stood up and blew his nose. He dialed the number for a cleaning service and asked to speak to the manager. For an exorbitant sum, he arranged for a cleaning team to come that day to scrub and shrink wrap the house. Then he called his father-in-law.
Bicky showed up a few hours later and scanned the place like a realtor performing an appraisal. The cleaning crew was well into it and some of the rooms had already been “sealed off,” vacuumed and dusted from floor to ceiling with the furniture draped as if the occupant would be absent for the season.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“I’m catchin’ a red-eye back to Philly tonight. I got an oil cleanup to close down.”
“I know that. What’s all this?” Bicky’s arm arced out elaborately, a gesture that reminded Hart of float riders during the Thanksgiving Day Parade. “It’s only going to take a couple more weeks, right?”
Half a dozen cleaning people scurried around, dusting and draping. Hart had promised them double pay if they finished in four hours.
“Then what are they doing?”
“Come.” Bicky followed Hart into the kitchen. Hart closed the door behind him.
“Do you want something to drink?” Hart asked. Bicky shook his head and sat down, but a second later changed his mind. He pulled a bottle of Dewar’s out of the cabinet and poured himself two fingers. He made a face, but took another swig.
“How do you drink this stuff?” Bicky walked to the fridge, tossed a couple ice cubes in his drink and poured a swig from the bottle to freshen it. Then he sat down on one of the bar stools around the island. “I’m all ears.”
“I’m not coming back.”
“What do you mean?”
“What word in the sentence didn’t you understand?”
“You have to come back. You have two more years on your contract.”
“So sue me.”
“Now how would that look if I sued you?”
“Is it always about appearances?”
Bicky shook him off and turned to look at the window. “What did you do last night? Catch a ghost or something? You sound like Sonia talking.”
“She’s been talking for a long time. It’s only now that I’ve stopped to listen.” Hart pulled up a stool. “I’ll finish the job and I’ll leave that river clean as technology can get it. But after that, I’m done.”
“Hey, you listen to me. You can’t just…”
Hart raised his hand to silence his father-in-law. “Don’t give me any grief about this, Bicky, and maybe I’ll come back as a consultant. But it’s a six-month sabbatical, at least, or no deal.”
Bicky rolled his head around, stretching the tension out of his neck. “Fine,” he said. He rubbed his temples. “I guess you finally figured out you’re rich. If you sold all the Akanabi stock Sonia left you on the open market, you’d be very rich. Stinkin’ rich.”
“You think that’s why I’m doing this? Because I suddenly have money?”
“Why else? You’re not much of the power-broker type, although you have your moments. You’re more of the ‘how can I serve you?’ mentality. It doesn’t do much for me personally, but I can see the necessity of it. We can’t all be boss, right?”
Hart scoffed: “Your single-mindedness never ceases to amaze me.”
“You’re not going to find whatever it is you’re looking for, you know. Not if you searched for a hundred years.” Bicky drained his glass and rose to go.
“Where can I reach you if I need you?”
“Cell phone,” Hart said.
Bicky sighed and stared at the spotless tile floor. “I still see her there, much as I try not to. I guess you do, too.”
Hart thought he saw Bicky’s eyes begin to water, but the old man turned before he could be certain. “You’re trying to save a world that has no interest in being saved,” Bicky called over his shoulder. “You’ll call me when you realize it.”
Hart watched him walk, stiff but proud, to the front door, an elegant man, even on the verge of defeat. Hart poured himself three fingers. The day was already turning out to be much longer than anticipated.
to be continued. . .