At exactly 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Bicky arrived at the Tirabi residence uncharacteristically dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a polo shirt. Kori and Jack were sitting at the kitchen table when he knocked at the front door. Kori jumped.
“You expecting company?” Jack asked.
“No.” She had called Jack the minute Bicky pulled out of the driveway the previous night and Jack had picked up on the first ring as if waiting for her call. They’d talked into the small hours where night blurs into day and the grandest ideas are born. After a marathon phone session, Jack showed up on the front step looking hanged-dogged and hopeful. Kori invited him up to her room where they’d continued their conversation, among other things, and now they were pleasantly exhausted. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in a while, or that Jack had made sufficient reparations along with all the right promises, but whatever it was, when Jack proposed that they get back together, Kori acquiesced. And she hadn’t again thought, until this precise moment, about Chris Kane. So while she sat, still as garden statuary, wondering about the odds of him being on the other side of the door, and if so, how to explain it away, Jack got up and answered it.
“Kori’s in the kitchen,” she heard Jack say as he and Bicky entered the kitchen. Kori let out every cubic inch of breath she’d been holding and smiled.
“Good night, I see,” Bicky said. Kori introduced the men.
“I heard all about you yesterday,” Bicky said, extending his hand.
Jack shot Kori a quizzical look and she blushed. “I was dreaming,” Kori said. “I’ll tell you about it later.”
“And I’ll keep all further comments to myself except to say that’s a very special lady,” Bicky said. “Should you have the good fortune for her to turn her unwavering gaze upon you, I suggest you rise to meet it.”
Kori popped up, planting a wet one on Bicky’s cheek. “I take back all the bad thoughts I had about you yesterday” Kori said. She gave Bicky a squeeze which he accepted stiffly, clearing his throat.
“It’s like hugging Gil,” Kori said to Jack. Bicky blushed at his own ineptness.
“They’re out in the barn,” Kori said. “Just Gil and Hart. Avery’s at the library working on the patent.”
Bicky nodded and whispered into Kori’s ear, loud enough for Jack to hear, “I think, my dear, that a mid-morning nap might do you wonders,” and he closed the door behind him.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Jack said, pulling Kori close. “No time like the present.”
The strains of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello on the soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon filled every crevice, corner and cobweb in the barn. Gil practiced the martial arts techniques he learned from the movie using a broomstick and Max as his opponent. Hart reclined on the hammock, reading a backdated version of Omni magazine, one that waxed prophetically about the brilliance of an as then little known scientist by the name of Marty Tirabi who harbored radical theories and an insatiable appetite for breaking down paradigms. The article, written in 1983, donned Marty the proverbial new messiah of the scientific world, said his star was quick and rising, and that it was just a matter of time before he stood, not only the scientific community, but the world at large on its ear with some scintillating new breakthrough.
Hart stopped to watch Gil who executed first a side and then a roundhouse kick, both flawless. He poked the air with the broom handle while Max chased the other end. Waves of tenderness flooded Hart’s chest and rippled outward to his arms and legs, his fingers and toes, and kept on rippling until he felt the room go electric with it. God had given him back something that he’d been horribly denied, something minute yet infinite, small yet limitless. He breathed in the smell, like the air after a lightning storm, both burnt and wet at the same time, and gratitude filled him up so much that he got vertigo. He tossed the magazine aside and planted his feet on the floor. He felt like he’d received a divine download, a specific, yet wordless instruction from a source higher than himself. With guidance, this child could pick up the mantle his father was so unexpectedly forced to set down. And you’ll guide him…
The knock at the door made Hart jump and set Max to barking, but both relaxed when Bicky walked in. Hart walked over to greet his father-in-law, but Gil bumped past, throwing his arms around Bicky’s neck and his legs around his waist. Bicky reeled, then caught his balance, holding firmly to Gil with one arm and a support beam with the other. It was a light gesture, yet it landed in Hart’s stomach like an unexploded grenade, threatening to detonate with the import of it. The grandson Bicky would never have.
“What took you so long?” Gil yipped right in Bicky’s ear.
Bicky grimaced, patted Gil clumsily on the back, and set him down, slow and deliberate.
“You guys had a good day yesterday, I see,” Hart said. He lowered the volume on the stereo.
“Thank you.” Bicky said, rubbing his ears. Gil’s smile effloresced, a flower in full bloom.
“He’s got all kinds of ideas for marketing the TDU,” Gil said to Hart, “and he said that we can build a special wing in Akanabi and dedicate it to my Dad. Maybe even rename part of the company. But whatever we do, people are going to know all about him. By the time Bicky’s done, he’ll be as big as Thomas Edison.”
“Bigger,” Bicky said.
“Who do you think made the bigger contribution?” Gil said. “Edison or Bell?”
“Those are just the common names.” Hart said. “What about all those physicists, toiling away in anonymity. The ones who come up with the big theories that advance our understanding of the universe. Somebody needs to thank them. It can’t all be about the light bulb.”
Gil sat down on his stool, set his lips in a tight line and moved them back and forth across his teeth, apparently in deep concentration. “I think it’s got to be about the light bulb. Without that invention, everyone else is in the dark. Eating in the dark, swimming in the dark, making phone calls in the dark, even inventing in the dark.” He looked to Bicky for confirmation.
“Then we won’t stop until his name is synonymous with Edison. How’s that?”
“Excellent.” Gil smiled and jumped off his seat. “Let’s get started then. C’mon over.”
Bicky followed Gil to the TDU and stood in front of it. “So this is the machine with a hundred and one uses,” Bicky said. He pulled open the metal door and was met with a full blast of hot air. “Whoa,” he said and took a step back.
Gil nodded and raised his eyebrows. “Should have warned you. It gets pretty hot in there. Let me show you how everything works and then we can sit down with the drawings.”
“You joining us?” Bicky asked Hart.
“Go ahead,” Hart said. “Gil and I have already talked this through a bunch of times. I would like a fresh pair of eyes, though, in case there’s something we’ve missed.” Bicky nodded.
“Okay, Mr. Bicky.” Gil said. “This machine is small for what we want to do with it. In a real facility, the scale could be increased as much as you want. Twenty to one. Fifty to one – whatever.” Gil said. “In here,” Gil opened the TDU’s door and another blast of heat escaped, “is where we feed the beast. My dad excavated it twenty feet down to a fully-lined pit. Those side doors over there slide open,” he said, pointing to the wall. “We back the ATV into the barn. It’s got this little hydraulic cylinder that raises the front of the trailer bed – just like a dump truck – so the trash slides off the trailer right into the machine.“
“By the way, I called the bank and told them I no longer needed the financing,” Hart said, returning to the hammock.
“Thanks,” Bicky said, flashing a lopsided grimace.
Gil went over every square inch of the TDU. For his part, Bicky was unwavering in his focus and seemed enthralled, both in the presence of genius and in that which genius had wrought.
Half an hour later, Gil finished his tutorial and sat down on the swivel stool. “So. What do you think?” he asked. He pushed off and began spinning.
“I think,” Bicky said, “that this may be the most important, money-making invention I’ll see in my lifetime. It’ll reshape the world. Maybe even put us in Bill Gates’ league.”
Gil’s stopped spinning to scrunch his nose at Bicky, clearly not the answer he wanted.
Bicky let out a long, breathy sigh: “I’m sorry… that I never met your father. What vision. And now his dream — ”
“More like his nightmare, you mean.”
Gil jumped. Everyone turned around to see Jerry Dixon emerging from the shadows in the corner of the barn. “Because if you had the opportunity to shake his hand, well then that would mean he’d be alive and you wouldn’t be taking his product to market for him.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Bicky hissed.
“Where did you come from?” Hart asked.
“How’d you get in?” Gil said.
“Through the door, buddy,” Jerry said. He walked over to Gil and tousled his hair as if he were a toddler. Gil grimaced and leaned away.
“I’ve been hanging out listening to all this lovey dovey crap. It is indeed heartwarming.” He glanced over at Hart. “No pun intended.”
Gil smoothed his straight hair over to the side- and scowled at Jerry.
“Just came by to see how it all turns out now that everyone’s become such fast friends.”
“Hart, get him out of here,” Bicky said.
“Bicky, what’s going on?” Hart asked.
“I fired him a few days ago.”
“Fired. Just like that,” Jerry said. “Can you believe it, Hart? After thirty-three years of loyal service. And for what?”
“I’m going to give you five seconds and then I’ll remove you myself.”
“I’ll tell you for what. Because Bicky Coleman, our Commander-in-Chief, the man we’d follow blindly into battle without a care for consequence, was disappointed in me. Who knew disappointment carried such a huge price tag?” Jerry huffed, walked over to the wall phone and pulled the receiver from it’s cradle.
“Hello, Operator? What’s the number for disappointment?” He smiled at Bicky, a sardonic, dripping thing, and yanked the phone off the wall, tossing it to the ground. “She doesn’t know,” he said. He shrugged, walked over to Gil and shooed him off the stool.
At first nonplussed, Gil’s confusion over what was happening changed to obstinance. He stalwartly refused to give up his stool until Jerry gave him a shove which sent him spiraling to the floor. Max lunged at Jerry, nipping the fleshy part of his hand, before Jerry managed to put Max in a choke hold and press him to his chest. Max stood with two paws off the floor, alternating between sucking air and baring his teeth.
“I’ll break his neck.”
“No!” Gil yelled.
Hart grabbed Max’s collar and Jerry released his grip. Max collapsed on the floor, panting for air. Hart picked him up, all seventy pounds, and deposited him in the hammock.
“Jerry, what the hell is your problem?” Hart was at Gil’s side, pulling him to his feet, dusting him off. He scooped Gil up and placed him in the hammock next to Max. “Stay,” he said to both of them. Bicky stood in the corner, eyeing the bulge in Jerry’s trouser leg.
Jerry rubbed his temples with both hands as if he had a headache. “Because I had a little dalliance with a woman that he cared nothing for, other than to control her,” Jerry said, responding to a question that no one had asked.
“Dalliance, my ass,” Bicky quipped. “She left you billions of dollars. Billion does not equal a dalliance. Just how long were you screwing her?”
“It really doesn’t matter, does it, Bicky? What matters is money. It’s all that matters.”
“You son-of-a-bitch,” Bicky said. He lunged for Jerry, swung and caught him with a glancing blow to the side of the jaw. It was like hitting granite.
Jerry neither reeled, nor blinked, but caught Bicky squarely with a sucker punch to the mid-section. “Oh, does that feel good,” Jerry said on contact.
Bicky groaned and doubled over, but pulled up and swung again. Jerry blocked Bicky’s fist and returned it with his own while Max barked in time with the punches. Gil watched in fascination as if these were the recorded antics of daytime television. Jerry’s military training gave him the upper hand, but Bicky’s years spent working out with a personal trainer made him a worthy opponent. Hart stared at them, momentarily stupefied, before his brain roused his body to action. The men were locked in an angry embrace, each fueled by years of swallowing their own bitter disappointments. Hart broke up the fight and held them at arms length, a referee between two boxers.
“Knock it off, dammit. There’s nothing to be done,” Hart said.
Bicky and Jerry stood glaring at one another, less than a few feet between them, inhaling each other’s fury, fueling their own. The ambient air, dank and fetid with the ghost of so much lost love, reeked of hopelessness.
“She’s dead. You both lost.”
“Why’d you come here, Jerry?” Hart snapped. “You have a hefty inheritance. Take it and go buy an island somewhere. Have some respect and leave the man to his grief.”
“Grief? The only thing Bicky Coleman grieves for is a bad investment,” Jerry said. He spit at Bicky’s feet, splattering the warm Italian leather. “Nothing else matters to him.”
“Why don’t you say something back” Gil said to Bicky, a note of pleading in his voice. He walked over from the hammock, Max in tow. Both fear and loss were reflected in Bicky’s crystal blue eyes. “Don’t let him say those mean things.”
“It’s you he needs to say something to,” Jerry replied. “Isn’t it, Boss?” Jerry smiled grimly, a gargoyle at the palace gate. “Something he’s going to have a hard time telling.” Jerry shook Hart off and sat back down on Gil’s stool.
Hart turned to Bicky. “What’s he talking about?”
“Still didn’t tell him?” Jerry asked. “Why am I not shocked.” Gil stared wide-eyed, alternating between Bicky and Jerry. Hart moved Gil and Max back to the hammock.
“Get out,” Bicky said.
“You know, son, here’s a lesson for you. Before you go into business with someone, make sure you have a good idea of their character. And barring that, make sure you get yourself a damn good attorney,” Jerry said. “At least do a background check.”
Jerry picked at his nails as if he had all the time in the world before looking Gil straight in the eye. “Do you know if it wasn’t for this guy, you’d still have parents?” He reached down to the leg of his trousers.
“What does that mean?” Gil asked. He turned to Bicky. “What does he mean?”
“Get Out!” Bicky yelled, his rage sputtering up, threatening to blow its sides. He took a step toward Jerry just as the former head of security for Akanabi Oil stood and pointed a 9 mm. at Bicky’s mid-section. Bicky halted in mid-stride.
“I mean, Bicky ordered me to have someone tail your parents the night they were killed. He really wanted those papers over there,” Jerry said, motioning toward the desk. “Told me to use all means, which, of course, I paid extra for.” Jerry cleared his throat. “It was me, by the way, torched your porch. I’m real sorry about that. In hindsight, it was sloppy and uncalled for.”
“You’re lying!” Gil screamed. He jumped down and grabbed the closest thing he could find, a snow globe. It was a clear plastic hemisphere sitting on a pink base and filled with water and faux snow. Plastic tropical fish swam inside and stirred up snow whenever someone shook it. The globe had been purchased during a family trip to Florida and for two months after, Gil slept with it every night. Now he heaved it across the room as hard as he could. It glanced off Jerry’s shoulder, hit the floor and landed with a distinct thud . Water leaked from the newly formed crack in the plastic and spread into a small, round puddle.
Bicky grunted and lunged for Jerry’s gun. Jerry fired and for an instant the room went quiet: the only sounds a whoosh of air as the bullet hurtled through time and space to its target, the sickening sploosh as it made contact. Hart pulled Gil and Max back. Bicky screamed in pain and collapsed in a heap on the ground. Gil’s head poked out from behind Hart’s back, his face a mixture of horror and awe.
Jerry smiled at Bicky, heaped on the floor like discarded packaging, clinging with both hands to his oozing thigh. Blood spread out, covering the distance in phases as it soaked into the fine cotton twill of Bicky’s pants, the smell of it acrid and strong. Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s head and started to laugh, a maniacal, full-bodied thing that, like the whirling dervishes of Islam, showed no signs of relenting.
to be continued. . .