About five years ago, before CSP was the online publishing juggernaut it is today, it was home to the first installments of a serialized crime novel Inheriting Dust, the story of a young man's attempt to find his long-lost father who had recently left him almost half a million dollars. Started by contributor Joseph Gray Carson in 2001 as the first Edmund Coile novel (and the first serialized publication on CSP), it languished in the fall of 2002 after the ninth installment had been published. After a long long hiatus, Part 10 of the series is finally seeing the light of day, with more to come.
While many readers have likely utterly forgotten the first nine installments and others who have not encountered the series yet, CSP has worked with Joseph to provide reader with the updated versions of Parts 1 through 9 in PDF format. The plot has not been modified drastically, but Joseph felt that certain key elements in the original were not completely in focus, and so new readers or those wanting to brush up on the series after all these years are invited to click here to view or download the PDF file. (Free Adobe Reader download required. Click here if you need to download Adobe Reader.)
And now Part 10, where Edmund, after having a well-hidden note from his father stolen by an elaborate ruse, finds solace and the hope of answers in an unlikely source: his ex-wife's new husband.*****
I got drunk that evening, but sedately. I'm not proud, but I'm normally a rather petty person, so I was surprised at how much I liked Laura's new husband Frank and, more to the point, at how graciously he treated me. The world is often devoid of charm, and when you see it, it usually comes without warmth--it is the reptilian ooze of the salesman trying to get you into the car, the barfly warming you up before he bums a drink. Frank's charm was real, and as much as I would have loved to feel superior to anyone Laura could marry after me, the fact is he was, if nothing else, a scintillating conversationalist. And so my drunkenness had come through an honest enjoyment of the evening instead of a panicked attempt to lubricate an uncomfortable social situation.
We had Thai take-out that was exquisite, scooping out of paper boxes onto stools around the long kitchen counter. Despite their lawyers' incomes, the realities of the San Francisco housing market provided them with roommates, a Mutt-and-Jeff-like lesbian couple who both worked as technical writers, apparently having survived the dot-bust by signing on to a software training firm that had an actual business plan and paid people with salaries instead of pretend stock money. Marla was the tall one and the more outspoken; you could tell that she and Laura enjoyed the company of each other's acid tongues, using the other as a provocateur to compel them to new heights of tastelessness. Frank and his counterpart, the short, olive-complexioned Sandra, were the ones whose role was to groan and feign embarrassment at the latest graphic description of, say, some elected official fellating an oil company executive, using whatever was in the news to construct a social critique built on images of perverted sexual desire. I had missed Laura's filthy commentary, and I was glad she had found both a comrade in Marla and two willing faux-offended audience members.
"I suppose you've heard all this before," Frank said. "At least in spirit."
"I've come to find current events quite dull without expletives. But she's found a worthy partner."
Marla and Laura beamed at me, then, and everyone laughed. It had been a while since I had felt this comfortable with others, that they didn't want anything from me or I from them. I guess this is what having friends is like, I thought, and it occurred to me that my long line of bad decisions began long before I dropped out of school to chase a postmark.
Later I accepted Frank's invitation to step outside for a cigar. Apparently Sandra would sometimes sneak off with him, but Marla strongly disapproved, and I don't blame either one of them. Smoking is the world's most disgusting and most satisfying habit. But it made me like Sandra more, who hadn't said enough for me to form much of an opinion about her.
"We probably could've moved into our own place once Laura got hired on at this new firm but we just thought, why? These two are great," Frank said, leaning back on the railing of the balcony to give his shoulders a stretch. "Sandra needs about two years of knowing you before she'll open up, but once that happens, it's rewarding." I found it surprisingly refreshing that he said that without sarcasm.
"Hey Frank, you mind if I...?" I was holding my lighter in my hand provocatively under an invisible joint.
"What, grass? Be my guest..."
I pulled the number out and put it to my lips. The flame pulled my eye towards it. I hit it and held it out to him.
"Uh, hold on, let me think... Yeah, all right," he said and grabbed at it.
I was curious. "You get tested for work? You're with the FBI, is that right?"
"Yeah, but it's not the FBI I worry about. They only ever test if they think there's a problem, and I know they don't test for pot, at least not my group, maybe the field guys." He took the joint between his lips and hit it like a pro. I'm kind of sloppy about it; I pull for a bit until I'm done, then let it out. But you see these guys who'll take a full hit, then hold it for thirty seconds and then re-huff it. He toked like a pro, and I told him so.
He laughed. "Thanks. I was stoned through much of law school. I had a lucky reaction to it, I guess. It helped me really map out all that minutiae better in my brain. Not like Laura, who's asleep in fifteen minutes. Well, after she's ransacked the pantry."
"She never did as much as me, but one time we were having a mellow Sunday night or something and both hit the bong and sat down to watch TV. I look over five minutes later and I see her by the cupboard with this big wooden spoon eating peanut butter from the jar."
Right when I said that the THC must have hit, 'cause he almost doubled over, and I laughed pretty good, too, at the memory of it. The pot giggles are easily mocked by anyone watching from the outside, but life becomes harder to laugh about the longer you go through, and the all-consuming THC mirth is like cleaning off the mental slate, luxuriating in a moment when there are no anxieties, no regrets.
But Frank was talking, I realized. "I'm sorry, man, totally spacing," I said.
He giggled at that, too. "I don't blame you, that's some sweet stuff. Listen, I was saying that I talked to Laura and I think I can help you."
I had decided an hour after I arrived that I couldn't lie to Laura--I never could, to both of our consternation. She knew the non-saga of my Dad and so I told her about the note and the money (I hadn't mentioned the amount specifically; our divorce had been amicable and alimony-free, but there's something strange about discussing dollar figures with someone with whom you had many fights about money, its value, its purpose). I had also told her about the self-stabbed Kay and how Dad's note had been taken out of the envelope hidden in my bag. And then I told her about finding Dave and his chilling grin. She had said, "Oh honey" and held me in her arms, and I cried then, cried about so many things I never could've picked just one. And I had felt better ever since, although during dinner it had begun to dawn on me that I had no idea what to do next. I would've taken help or advice from a fortune cookie but we hadn't gotten any. "What all did she tell you?"
He lifted his drink and took a good pull at it. The moon was bouncing off the tops of the houses climbing the hill to where we stood. It was getting later, and you could hear the ocean grumbling to the west. "I hope neither of us has betrayed a confidence; she came to me because she wanted to help. She said you were trying to find your father, that you had a note from him you were trying to track down but then that note was stolen by someone you knew."
"I took a half-hour to tell it, she boils it down to ten seconds and gets everything in there." I shook my head, chuckling. "Yeah, that's it, all right." v He nodded towards the sliding glass door to where she sat on the couch reading a magazine. She glanced up briefly, and I realized she knew we were having this conversation. The fact that they wanted to help, that they were even being nice to me, made me almost tear up again, but I am nothing when drunk if not sentimental. "Laura has a talent for summation. She helps me out with my written stuff whenever she can spare the time. I'm arguably better in the courtroom, but shit, I haven't been in front of a jury for eighteen months." He refilled us both from the bottle he had set on the little wrought-iron table.
"I have some ideas to help you. If you know this person Kay's last name or hell, just give me the name of the bar, and I can probably go from that. I'll find out about this bartender that was killed, too, see what the Austin PD are doing with that."
"FBI databases?" I will admit that until that moment I had no idea how I might go about finding Kay, but if she knew to look for that note in the envelope then she must be somehow involved with my father or people who knew him in some way.
"Yeah, and those are pretty good, but if those turn up nothing, I've got an ace. One of my responsibilities is to serve as liaison between us and Homeland Security for the west coast. Now, some of those guys are good guys, some are fascists, but the one thing they've got over us is that they built their infrastructure knowing that the law would be written around what they wanted. We never had that luxury. But I've got a colleague there, we'll occasionally sit down and run stuff on each other's machines--no printouts, just good faith information sharing. Like I say, some of those people act like the SS or something, but I'm friends with a couple who believe that, you know, we're all in this to protect people within the limits of the law." He was trying to justify himself, and I sympathized. I often felt bad for any politician that had an ounce of integrity, because you know they had to turn a blind eye to rampant corruption every day, trying to stay focused on the big prize, and hope that they were doing the right thing. Academia and unemployment had been my only two roles in the world, and neither made much claim to making a difference.
"Also, this is totally up to you, but if you have a copy of the cashiers check you got from your father, or the name that's on there, I could run that, too, just see what comes up."
"The name is fake, I came up with nothing through this private eye in North Carolina."
He nodded. "That's what I figured. But there's a date and a bank name on it, and there's likely to be only so many transactions of that size. Likely some Fed somewhere investigated, maybe Treasury, and even if it ran dry the computer might remember something interesting." He put out his hands like he was apologizing. "I'm not an agent, so I don't think much that way, but as a lawyer I know where to look for info. Give me what you got, I'll give you what I can find."
"Listen, thanks, man, really." It felt like weak gratitude, but he smiled broadly at it.
"It's good to meet you. Laura said you guys had your differences, but that you were good people."
"I don't know if that's true," I said.
"Well, her thinking it is good enough for me and should be for you, too. Listen, we're early to bed, early to rise, so you write down any number, name, piece of information you can think of, leave it on the table."
"This is really generous," I said.
"It's not just for you, or for her, either. Look, I've heard a lot about you, but Laura, she's always worried about you, too. She's a worrier, as you probably know, and so when you show up and this is your story, she's got cause to worry. I want to help you because I want you to get this sorted out so that Laura won't worry about you anymore. And, now that I've met you and gotten to know you a little bit, so that I won't have to worry about you either. I don't like the way this sounds, the way these people sound. The more info I can get you, the better I'll feel."
I nodded. "Me, too." He went back in the house, then, and I lingered outside until he and Laura went to bed. I drank the rest of the bottle, bit by bit, listening to the ocean and gazing out over the tops of houses and the tangles of electrical wire, wondering why, with so many people worried about me, I wasn't one of them.