The driver pulled to the curb. “You want me to wait?”
“No.” I opened the door and stepped one foot out, as if testing the temperature of the water. “Yeah, wait,” I amended. “Please. Fifteen minutes, tops.”
The driver nodded and shook open his newspaper to the sports page.
I slammed the door and passed through the gates leading to the brownstone. The lawn was well-tended, mowed precisely and evenly. Not a single leaf dotted the grass, despite the wind. Late-blooming flowers churned out their colors, while those whose summer work was done had been trimmed back neatly. Here and there small statues decorated the garden. Eugene often joked, in better days, that they were his family. He once told me he liked them because they didn’t talk back.
I knocked quietly. The doorbell would be too loud; too merry.
The housekeeper opened the door. She wore a crisp white apron over her dress, nearly ironed and heavily starched. She spoke in hushed tones as if Eugene were already dead. “Welcome, Tom. Thank you for coming. Shall I take your coat?”
“Please.” I wanted to address her by name, but the truth was, Eugene had never introduced us. She was just always there, a presence, like one of the statues in his garden, alive, yes, but never talking back. Never having any needs to attend to except Eugene’s.
She nodded up the stairs. “He’s in the study. You know the way.”
The carpet was soft beneath my feet. I grabbed the handrail to steady my nerves. I paused outside the door for a moment before grasping the handle—custom made; a copper rosebud polished to perfection—and turning it to the right.
The door swung open.
Eugene sat behind the desk, stacks of paper before him. He looked up, removed his glasses. Smiled weakly. “Tom. Good of you to come. I’d get up but…”
I nodded. Stepped into the room and shut the door. But I lingered there. “You look…good.”
He barked a laugh. “I look like shit, Tom. You’re always glossing over everything, aren’t you? Lying, I suppose is the better term. That’s why you were in the front and I was in the back, doing the real work.” I stiffened then relaxed. It was true: Eugene was the business man. I just spun tales for the media.
“Don’t let it go, Tom.” I was startled by the pleading note in Eugene’s voice. “Keep it running. That business is like a child to me. The daughter I never had.”
“You have Laura.”
He frowned. “Laura refused to have anything to do with me. Refused my money; refused the vacations; refused the college education I dangled before her. Had to do it on her own, the stubborn fool.”
I grinned. “Perhaps she’s more like her father than you realize. Or admit.”
“Laura is her mother through and through.” Eugene grunted. Do you know she’s got three boys? And I’ve never even met them?”
I shrugged. Feigned indifference. Of course I knew, the children were my own flesh and blood.
“I bet she thinks she’s getting it all.”
Again, I shrugged. Laura didn’t want her father’s money.
“I’m leaving it all to you, Tom.”
Eugene gestured around the expansive room. “The houses, the business, the cars…All yours.”
He smiled. “I’m sure you’ll find a way.” Then he closed his eyes. “Leave me now, I’m tired.”
* * *
I descended the stairs. The housekeeper appeared on silent feet and retrieved my coat. I slipped into it. “Thank you…” I turned. “What is your name, anyway?”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.” As she opened the front door for me, I saw gray clouds moving in to take their place in the sky.
I got into the taxi and gave the driver Laura’s address. The driver folded his newspaper and put the car in gear.
“What’s your name,” I asked, handing the driver a stack of bills outside Laura’s house.
His eyes met mine in the mirror. “What, you getting religion now that your business partner’s dying? You don’t care about my name, Tom Jacobs.”
Laura met me at the door, hands on hips. “You went to see him, didn’t you?”
“I asked you not to. Let him be the needy one for once.”
“He’s my business partner, Laura. Besides that, he’s my friend. Don’t you want to know how he’s doing?”
“Aren’t you at least going to let me come in?”
And I suddenly realized that Laura didn’t love me at all. I had merely been a pawn in Eugene’s and Laura’s chess game. I couldn’t let her go: “He left me everything,” I said. “How will you survive on your own?”
She smiled. “Eugene taught you well.”
And the thunder clapped and rain streaked down the windows like tears.
And at that very moment, I was later told, Eugene Davidson died.
This was written in response to Storydam’s weekly writing challenge.