Chapter Three, Part Three




    We arrived at Reggie’s apartment, but apparently too late. The door was off its hinges. Ms. Bonami was gone. Every drawer had been pulled out, overturned, and its contents scattered. Reggie’s twin sized mattress, which had lain flat on the floor without a box spring, or even a frame, had been stripped of bedclothes and then ripped open for good measure. A small table and a single chair had both been knocked down and left on the floor next to a spoon and a broken cereal bowl in a small puddle of milk and a few flakes of soggy cereal. The rest of the box had been emptied onto the floor of the kitchen along with a few sets of mismatched forks and knives. The Wheaties box itself was in the sink. The few plates, bowls, mugs, and plastic drinking glasses Reggie owned were scattered about. A large portmanteau had been emptied, and I could see a colorful collection of ties and collared shirts scattered across the floor along with two other suits from which the linings had been torn. Half a dozen tee-shirts with cryptic slogans, twelve pairs of relatively clean men’s briefs, and a cornucopia of socks completed the tableau.
    “I can’t imagine why you don’t meet your clients here, instead of at the coffee house, Reg,” I said.
    “Very funny,” he scowled. “What do you think these goons are doing to your car right now?” I ran out of the room. The Jag sat, clean and whole, in the parking lot where I’d left it. I called back over my shoulder to Reggie.
    “Do you really think they’ll—”
    “No,” he answered.
    “Did they find what they were looking for?”
    “They probably think so,” he replied. “They won’t come looking for a while.”
    “You holding out on me again, kid?” I turned towards him.
    “Are you the lawyer for the prosecution now, Counselor?” He wheeled around and faced me as I walked back inside. His voice was shaking. I was suddenly staring into the yellow eyes of a hungry wolf, feeling his hot breath on my face as the kid moved with such speed from the far side of the room to the doorstep that I stumbled back out again. He was in my face, pointing his long fingernail right between my eyes faster than I could blink.
    “I’ve been arrested, set up, tied up, and robbed all in the last twenty four hours,” he said, shaking. “I’ve been more open and honest with you than I’ve been with anyone in the last twelve years, but you continue to antagonize me. I’m trying, for fuck’s sake! I’m trying. I need more accusations like I need a quicksilver enema. And now I’m yelling at the closest thing I have in this whole damn town to a friend! What the hell am I doing?”
    He stopped, withdrew. His countenance changed again from fiendish and canine to vulnerably human. Small, frail, childlike. Tears welled in his brown eyes. He retreated into the apartment and sat on the floor, weeping.
    “Sorry, Reggie,” I stammered, once again walking back into the room. “I guess you always seem so in control of yourself, I thought—”
    “I know,” he sniffed. “I know. You’re right. Control. I need control.” He took a deep breath, and looked up at me, eyes red. “I’m better. I shouldn’t have yelled. Not at you. I’m trying, really.”
    “Alright,” I nodded. “What did they take?”
    “I really do want to be honest with you, Sam,” he said, taking a deep breath. “But I can’t tell you everything. Not now, and not here. I’m an old liar trying to go straight and I need someone to trust me, but I’m finding out that people like believing lies more than they like believing the truth. I will tell you, but I need you to trust me that I can’t do it now. And that is the truth.”
    “Alright.” I said. “Okay. Do you want me to help you clean up before your landlord comes knocking? I mean, I know you didn’t do it, but they can get a little particular about stuff like this. Let’s just hope the cops haven’t been here.”
    “They have,” a voice said from behind me. I turned around to see a small woman with a froth of curly white hair on top of her head. Her hands were on her hips, and she looked up at me with an expression that made me think my rent money must be late, though I hadn’t been a renter in decades.
    “Reginald, I’m sorry,” she said. “But they dropped off a report about you gettin’ arrested for somethin’ the other day, and now this. They’re leanin’ on me pretty bad, threatenin’ to drag up the Mister’s past an’ all. I just can’t be dealin’ with the cops, child. I could give you notice, and—”
    “It’s okay, Mrs. Lourdes,” he said. “I understand. You don’t have to go through all that. I’ll be out by tonight.”
    “You’re a good kid,” she said. “Seems like you’re mixed up in something nasty, and I’m sorry. I can’t have you here, but I always told your mother you were a good kid at heart.”
    “Did she ever believe you?” he asked.
    Mrs. Lourdes smiled at him.
    “You know she did, Reginald. You know she did.”
    Reggie took another deep breath. “I’ll be out by tonight.”
    “Clean up good, and you might still get that deposit back.”
    “Yes, ma’am,” Reggie nodded. As she began to leave, Reggie looked up at her. “Hey, Mrs. Lourdes? Did the police find who broke into my place?”
    “Yes, dear. A woman named Angela, and a man named Randal. The cops made me fill out a report. Anything’s missing, you should call ‘em.” She handed Reggie a business card. He passed it to me. It read: Lt. Buford Summers.
    “Hey Sam,” Reggie said, after Mrs. Lourdes had walked off. “I’m sorry for yelling before. I really meant it when I said you were my friend. Did you say you had a spare room?”
    “Did I— What? You’re asking me to—? No.” I shook my head emphatically. “You can’t just— No way!” I kept shaking it as though I were having some sort of fit. “No. Ain’t happening. I can’t— No!” I stammered, insisted, and stubbornly, immovably, in no unclear terms, resisted.
 
    Two hours later, with much less effort than I would have imagined, we had succeeded in loading the entire undamaged contents of Reggie’s studio apartment into my spare room. I cannot recall how he reasoned me into it, but at the time it seemed logical. Vague memories from half-remembered law school classes floated through my head seeking to mount an organized rebellion against this turn of events. But try as I might I could not coherently express my concerns. I babbled and moaned to no avail.
    After all, he did not take up much space, and I had the spare room, and he certainly was a friend in need, and so on. After lugging his luggage upstairs and dropping everything in the room that faced the alleyway behind my unit, I collapsed on the couch. I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep until I awoke to the most glorious of smells wafting from my kitchen. It was already dark out. As I struggled to sit upright on my overstuffed sitting room couch Reggie poked his head from the kitchen and announced that dinner was ready.
    Now, in addition to Santa Fe’s reputation as a haven for artsy types, New Mexican food was one of the primary things that attracted me to the area. Carla and I had spent time in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California on vacations. I loved all the different styles and flavors of Southwestern Cuisine. How Reggie had discovered this vulnerability, I don’t know. But I am eternally glad he did.
    Reggie served me the most delicious molé con pollo I had ever tasted, along with generous helpings of red rice and black beans, and brown beer from a local brewer. After two bottles, I allowed my mind to wander. I wanted to ask Reggie all about his past, but after the reaction earlier that day I was reluctant to. As a faithful dog would shirk from his master’s newspaper, I found myself avoiding any thought or mention of Reggie’s dubious past. If feasts like this were to become commonplace, I could certainly put up with a few inconveniences, inconsistencies, and outright inventions.
    “If he ever does come to visit, I’ll clear out for a few days,” Reggie announced, out of the blue.
    “What?”
    “Your son. You have an adult son, right?”
    “Did I mention him?” I asked, surprised.
    “I don’t think so,” Reggie said. “But you keep that room for him, don’t you? I saw a few photos stacked in the closet there. You two don’t talk much, do you?”
    “No, no we don’t,” I admitted. “How did you guess that?”
    “I don’t guess,” Reggie said. “We talked about your wife’s death already. There’s no pictures of family anywhere upstairs, except maybe in your room, which I haven’t seen. But there are in your study down here. The door was open,” he explained, “I wasn’t trying to be nosy. I promise. You’ve got an ‘in memoriam’ picture frame for your daughter, just like your wife’s. No photos of just your son. And he never stands next to you in group photos. But there’s a strong family resemblance.”
    “Yes,” I muttered, taking another swig of the beer Reggie had provided. “He always stood next to Carla.”
    “And there aren’t any photos of just the two of you. Not in your study. There are photos of you and your wife, photos of you and your daughter. Photos of the four of you. Every combination, except you and your son. Those are all stacked on the top shelf of your guest room. And those are all twenty years old. So I reasoned that the two of you haven’t had much contact. But you do keep the room, so you must wish he would call.”
    “Yes,” I said. “A father stops trying after a while. And sons can be stubborn.”
    “At least you tried. I never knew my father.”
    “Really?”
    “My mother barely did.” He grinned. “I’m a real bastard.”
    “And if you could meet him today?” I asked.
    “If I told you I’d strangle him, would you have to report me, Counselor?”
    “I believe the rule is ‘genuine possibility of imminent physical harm,’” I smiled slightly, in spite of myself. “So, no.” Reggie laughed.
    “Not that it would be that easy,” he said. “But I imagine it would be satisfying.”
    “You know something about him, I guess?”
    “For a long time I was obsessed with finding him,” Reggie said. “He has a lot to answer for. My mother was very ill my whole life, at least in part on his account. And I was not an easy child for a single mother to raise. She didn’t know what to do with me. Theft, con games, and the like. She tried to discipline me, but the way she smiled when I put food on the table, or paid off this or that debt. I could always tell when she was proud.” The edges of his mouth turned down a little. “I was in Europe when she died. It took me a while before I could make it back here. I haven’t been up to the grave yet.”
    “I suppose she’s not going anywhere,” I commented. I immediately felt bad about it.
    “No.” He smiled, which I did not expect. “I see your sense of humor’s a bit off, too. I like it.”
    “I only get morbid when I’m drinking,” I said. “How many of these have I had?”
    “Just the two, Psycho.”
    “Can I ask what you were doing in Europe?”
    “You can,” he said.
    We sat in silence for some time. I nodded to myself, thinking of my one trip ‘across the pond’ long ago on business. I’d missed my son’s first high school debate tournament for that.
    “Well?” Reggie broke in on my thoughts.
    “What were you doing in Europe?” I finally asked.
    “Looking for my father,” he said. “Paying off some debts. Getting in over my head, as usual. The latter appears to have followed me. I haven’t figured out how or why, yet. I thought I’d made a clean break.”
    “Oh?”
    “Yep. I got in with some real weirdos, a German club— well,” he stopped and looked at me. “I’m supposed to be leveling with you, right?”
    I looked him in the eye and nodded. My stomach tightened with anticipation that he was about to tell me the truth. It was what I’d been asking for, but I wasn’t entirely sure I could handle it. Reggie took a deep breath.