We're really progressing with This Is Heaven, so we're in a bit of a hurry. John got himself into another flagrante with Taylor, and this time the flagrantist---(neo? neo?)---the flagrantist was Inspector LaStrada himself, so we re-find ourselves in jail. And then there's Ray of course, John's old friend, who's still held by the authorities in connection with Neill Palmer's death. This is the beginning of Chapter 25, and we'll take you up to one of the stepping stones for the overdrawn happy ending. Enjoy:
The police station of Georgia Beach sports two jail cells off the main office. It’s old-fashioned, homely almost, a film noir of sturdy iron bars to which jail birds are supposed to cling in silent desperation.
They’ve separated me and Taylor in a transparent attempt to prevent more lewd interaction between John Lee, age 29, sex-male, race-Caucasian (I had to provide my personal details yet again), and Taylor Stanford Hart, sex-male, race-Caucasian, age-perhaps-illegal—Taylor had failed to convince them of his 18th birthday, he doesn’t look the birthday boy at all. Your Social Security Number? That would be 067-70-9756. Say that again: “067-07-9765.” It won’t take it. The computer. The number. Sorry. “You have no driver’s license?” No, he don’t, because he’s a nerd (Taylor put it differently). Sorry.
I’m alone in Cell No.1, Taylor is with Ray in Cell No.2. Ray couldn’t possibly have followed the conversation about “carnal knowledge” going on in the main office, a topic to which Taylor and I contributed very little-—letting LaStrada dictate his observations to a desk officer behind an unwilling computer while the goldfish in its bowl was looking on-—us not questioning whether Mr. Lee’s “hold” on Mr. Hart’s “member” was intentional or perhaps the result of a regrettable slip-up due to substandard illumination inside the Green Room-—except that Mr. Hart, at a critical juncture, namely when LaStrada had run out of things to say about “members” and poised to switch to the transgressive part of the arrestees’ malfeasance (the yellow crime tape, the perimeter violation)-—that Mr. Hart, whose mother runs a Baltimore law firm (we will learn soon)-—that Taylor asked several nerdy questions about the goldfish, questions which engaged the desk officer in lengthy answers, so lengthily that Strada’s cell began to ring and the detective was called away. I lost my train of thought. Yes, Ray could not have followed the conversation, but he’s sensitive, very sensitive, and now he’s gazing expectantly at his cell mate.
...us not questioning whether Mr. Lee’s “hold” on Mr. Hart’s “member” was intentional or perhaps the result of a regrettable slip-up...
I cling to the iron bars in silent desperation and in an attempt to brace myself against more panicky thoughts-—it’s called meditation, the attempt, I believe—in particular thoughts about:
(a) a wood-paneled conference room in the provost’s office, me sitting at the table, staring at the shiny surface of imitation mahogany, SGC’s vice provost sitting opposite to me, also staring at the table, holding on to a sheet of paper, both of us equally embarrassed, somebody from security standing half-behind him, jingling with change in his pocket-—nah, they won’t, they’ll send a registered letter to my home address informing me of the termination of my employment and my banishment from the campus “for cause.”The corridor door to the main office is still ajar (suicide watch?), so we hear what sounds like the entrance door banging. There’s the back and forth between the sergeant on duty and a voice I somehow remember, and next thing the corridor door opens with a suit and an attaché case, the same person sent last week by Trevor Howard to alert me to DA Hunnsbruck’s closet activities. The suit recognizes my face and greets me casually: “I came for Mr. Ray Marang.”
(b) the performative aspects of LaStrada’s remarks, the way his voice played with pitch and tremolo when repeating my last name surreptitiously (“Mr. Lee,” “Mr. Lee,” Mr. “Lee”). And they have my finger prints now, the prints they will also find on both sides of Neill Palmer’s mysterious darkroom letter. And I had a free phone call to make and declined. I feel like a black hole.
“Mayang,” I say, “Ray Mayang.”
“How do you know?”
“We’re next of kin.”
“Oh, that’s why you are here.” He points at Ray. “This is Mr. Marang, I reckon…And this young man?”
“Taylor Stanford Hart,” the name’s bearer replies with a left-handed grip on his glasses.
“Of course,” the lawyer says and withdraws his instruments—-fountain pen and yellow pad—-from the attaché case. “You are somehow involved in this?” he queries Taylor.
“Somehow,” Taylor replies.
“Good,” the lawyer replies, “so we can dispense with the usual protocol of confidentiality for the time being. My name is Robert Rowan. I am an attorney at law.” He turns to me again, his gaze playing with the lock on the cell door. “What are you doing here?”
“Just visiting,” I say.
He shakes his head and turns to Ray. “Mr. Marang, I have been made to understand that you find yourself in legal trouble.”
“Yes,” Ray answers.
The lawyer takes Ray in for a few seconds—-the salt-n-pepper hair, the tummy and the short limbs, the face desperate despite its oriental placidness. “I resent to raise the matter,” he says, “but you must understand that I need to charge for my services. It is a matter of compensation.”
“Compensation,” Ray repeats. He looks at me.
“Compensation,” I echo, “how do you mean?”
“Mobile stores of value,” the lawyer replies. “Money.”
‘Money,’ I think, one neuron at a time. Didn’t we? Ben’s checks come to mind. I feel in my pockets, feel indeed a check-sized slip, and hand it through the bars to Rowan. The lawyer studies the check, says: “What is A-level escort service?”
“Ray’s business,” I say. (Ha!)
“A two thousand dollar retainer won’t get Mr. Marang very far,” Rowan says. “I am Trevor Howard’s friend, not yours or Mr. Marang’s.”
“If Ray wins this case,” I reply (finally climbing out of my black hole) “he stands to inherit the fortune of Neill Palmer, a local real estate tycoon. Eight digits.”
“Yes, Neill Palmer.”
“The last twig of the Palmer family tree?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I say. “I know it’s family money. He came into it a few years ago.”
“Mr. Palmer owns the dunes behind the beach,” Rowan ejaculates.
“Owned,” I say.
“He sold it?”
“Neill Palmer is dead?”
“That’s why Ray is here, didn’t Howard tell you?”
“Trevor told me to do him a favor and go chase an ambulance.”
“It should be in the news by now, Palmer’s death.”
“I don’t believe it is. I would be abreast. Palmer and I go back quite a while. He was my first client when I moved down here.”
“Howard handles the Palmer case,” I say. “It’s death and bodily fluids in the darkroom of the Blue Moon. Neill Palmer’s death.”
“So that’s why he wouldn’t tell me over the phone. And Mr. Marang?”
“Ray is the main beneficiary of Palmer’s last will and testament. Especially his last.”
“Eight digits, that’s an understatement. Neill owned the entire coast line down to Simon’s River. That’s why it’s still undeveloped. It’s perhaps the best piece of property on the entire East Coast.”
We stare at Ray, the forty five year old oriental boy who’s beaming like a Buddha.
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