Chapter 2 [Use Right & Left Arrow Key To Center Page - then Down Arrow]
When Gary had been trapped in his inability to continue talking the clarity that came into the moment had forced him to see that he had been avoiding looking at a question about himself he had been carrying around since his retirement.
He had not talked to anyone about his reasons for retiring before the mandatory age.
The relief that had enveloped him at her unquestioning alliance with him in his unexamined discomfort now forced him to look at himself under a new light of inspection.
He wondered what had been the unveiling clue in his voice or manner of relating to her his life’s experiences that had allowed her to see him within a greater clarity than he had been able to see himself up to this moment.
He could see that he had not placed the reasons for his retirement into a wholly satisfying perspective. He had retired telling himself only that he was finished with that part of his life. Until now the nagging sadness that had come along with leaving firefighting had not been examined closely.
This experience with Ashley had shaken him. The relieving emotions that had flowed through him by her supportive response to the telling of his story had forced him to see that he may have been resisting a more probing self-examination of his bravery.
For the first time he allowed himself to face the implications to why his underlying sadness had not gone away. He now asked himself if he may have retired early from firefighting because he had been running from the fear of his own death.
Turning his gaze toward the open sea he asked himself what now seemed an even more fundamental question; had he lost his courage when Johnny Hart had died.
He knew within a certainty that Ashley had challenged that possibility as impossible when she had slipped her hand under his.
Looking at her, he felt his body flow with renewed warmth. Shaking off further self-examination he turned toward her, “Would you like to walk along the shore for a while?”
She nodded and stood up. Lifting himself up he smiled at her and reached for her hand. She smiled as his hand enclosed her own once again. They strolled closer to the water’s edge and then walked hand-in-hand along the shore line.
The breeze ran airy fingers through their hair. The sound of the surf played a welcoming melody to their approach. Gary glanced down at her. Feeling his eyes on her, she smiled up at him experiencing a pleasing excitement run through her waking up her body.
He began to explore how he might learn more about her without making her feel uncomfortable. Aware that she had been cautiously self-protective from their initial meeting this morning he moved their conversation forward within a tentative inquiry.
Gary learned that like himself, she had been married twice, divorced twice. Her second marriage had produced four children. She had lost two of them. Misty had died in a boating accident and Stan Kelly had died in the Gulf War. Kitt Kelly, now Kitt Stanford and Derrick Kelly were her surviving children now with children of their own.
He thought he saw a watchfulness enter her eyes when she mentioned her grandchildren.
Gary Alexander experienced an instant desire to provide her a sense of protective reassurance. Her look of watchful observation for his response that she had teen-age grandchildren told him she was curious why he had sought her out.
He wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t judge him by common cultural assumptions.
The look that passed between them had allowed him to recognize that if he would provide any feedback of reassurance to her it would bring about a renewed examination of their age difference. He thought it might have to come but he told himself it didn’t have to take place today.
It was at this moment that Gary understood and accepted that it was up to him to make the case for a relationship if he wanted one to develop between them after today.
He told her he was sorry about the loss of her children. She smiled up at him in gentle appreciation of his kindness. Tightening her hold on his hand momentarily, she said, “Thank you. I miss them.”
Gary and Ashley spent the rest of the morning at the beach. Slowly a wider picture of Gary Alexander emerged into view for her. He noticed her reluctance to talk in more depth about herself.
When time had begun to close-in on noon he asked her if she would have lunch with him. They chose the Longboard Restaurant & Pub.
When Ashley had earlier walked along the shoreline with Gary within an unusual sense of pleasure it had lured her into a cautious hope. She had made an attempt to explore briefly why he had made the decision to ask her to have breakfast with him. She had suggested to herself that perhaps he had merely been lonely and bored.
She wasn’t being self-deprecating in her attempt to understand what had gone through his mind that had turned their meeting into a more extended male and female encounter. She had become aware of an immediate connection between them when he had rescued her on the beach.
At this moment she felt restrained by the fact that she could not be sure he had felt it and if he had not she then wanted to know the real reason he had suggested an entrance into her life.
Ashley had moved away from the naive woman of her early marriages. She now struggled to always deal with the real. She had accepted after her last divorce that living in a world of careful denial had been demeaning and life-denying. She didn’t want her life to ever contain fraud again.
Her woman’s experience with her children’s father had taught her that human motives can be amazingly complex. His had been a carefully camouflaged powerful ego impacted by a thirst for personal power mixed with arrogated pride.
During their marriage he had activated within his manhood a deceptive use of his male competitiveness and thirst for success into a self-justified overt and silently cruel domination of her using the guise of love.
Ashley instinctively had known that love is never lonely. Yet in her womanhood she had never been more alone than during their marriage.
Later, positive experiences had allowed a more pleasing self-perspective to emerge. These self-affirming situations had been able to push the painful personal experiences of her woman’s isolation into the background of the present moment. It had been this knowledge that had allowed her to cling to hope instead of devolving into despair.
Ashley wanted to believe Gary Alexander and she had connected within a promise of intimacy. She hoped that it was not an emotion residing only within herself.
Out of her painful childhood and failed marriages she had carried with her the unyielding desire that had surfaced early in her growing-up years that a unique intimacy would one day be hers. That it had not happened had always haunted the hope within a wounding sorrow.
After Gary and Ashley had gathered up the things they had placed on the sand they took them to his car. Moments later they entered the Longboard restaurant. It was a little after noon.
A television set above the bar was on. Customers were glancing up at it within a momentary interest then back toward their companions.
The atmosphere was light with laughter and talking. Busy waitresses hurried about the room taking orders and serving them. Ashley could see this was a favorite hang-out for the locals as well as for tourists.
Taking seconds to look around Gary took her hand. He moved in front of her with Ashley in protective tow through the gathering crowd toward the back patio.
Walking to a table in the far corner of the garden patio he pulled a chair out for her. She sat down. He pulled another chair out from under the table sitting down beside her.
Glancing up at the interior of the large outdoor umbrella over them and then back toward her, he said, “They have an annual lobster fest here. Have you been to any of them?”
Upon entering the restaurant Ashley had instantly liked the unpretentious atmosphere. She enjoyed the lively laughter and bustle of the moment. It allowed her to be among cheerful fellow human-beings with no demands upon herself. She felt herself relax.
At Gary’s question, she took it in wondering how to explain to him that she rarely went out alone. Ashley didn’t want to tell him that the early morning visit to the beach had been an unusual decision forced upon her by a moment of desperate unrolling despair that had threatened to overcome her.
When this morning’s new engulfing moment had threatened to overwhelm her, she had rushed toward the place that had often given her contentment. It had been most often the steady peaceful sounds of an ocean surf.
Looking at him she felt the powerful sense of safety that being with this tall strong man had brought her from the moment he had come striding in gallant bravery toward her to face two men with nothing more than a flashlight.
She had fought an almost paralyzing fear when confronted by the men. Ashley had not been troubled by their words but their manner of approach. She felt the refreshed memory roll over her as she once again confronted the moment.
The earlier sense of being powerless to save herself washed over her. The inner trembling that had begun at the stranger’s attempt to touch her had ignited a gripping sense of helplessness that had threatened to expel a scream from her lips.
Relief that what she was remembering was now only a memory because of this man’s interference flowed through her.
Looking directly into his light brown eyes, she replied, “No, I’ve never been to a lobster fest.”
She wanted to add, “Actually I’ve lived much of life within a narrow personal experience.” Staring into his probing eyes she silenced its voice. She hated pity in exchange for understanding. What she longed for was respect and love.
Gary gazed into her green eyes within a thoughtful perplexity. It went through his mind that she wanted to say more but had refused it utterance.
The waitress approached to take their order. They decided on lobster salad and iced tea. The food was pleasingly arranged on their plates. Ashley felt refreshed after finishing her salad and the iced tea, “Thank you. I enjoyed the meal.”
Gary grinned back at her, “You’re welcome. I liked it too. I especially like the company I’m with.”
Ashley was caught off guard. He had not moved into any suggestion of the personal between them after the initial compliment he had paid her at breakfast. Their breakfast kiss hadn’t been strong enough evidence to her as being anything more personal than a shared whimsy. At his words, she wanted to touch him. She didn’t. Instead, she smiled into his eyes.
After lunch they once again set-up their small beach spot the way it had been before. Gary liked being with her. The longer she interacted with him the more Ashley wanted the afternoon to not end.
The rest of the afternoon flew by within a companionable exchange of light conversation. He had been correct about her love of laughter. When she giggled softly at his jokes he felt the seductive quality of its sound slide down with pleasing exactness into his body. They had watched the beach community ebb and flow with visitors. Without setting out to do it they had made today an island that only they existed upon.
The sun was slowly sliding down into the darkening sky when she heard the sound of his cell-phone. Smiling, he said, “Once I was lost now I am found.”
At his words, a poignant memory ran through her. Shifting her position to stand up and walk away he saw her intention. He reached out and touched her shoulder lightly, “You don’t have to go.”
Listening quietly for several seconds Gary’s face took on a sobering aspect, “What caused you to think that?”
“Okay... Yes. That’ll be a good time. Thanks!”
Turning toward Ashley, he said, “That was a firefighter friend of mine. Roy Hudson. He is the Assistant Fire Chief at the station. He has come across something about Johnny’s death that bothers him and he wants to talk to me about it.”
Ashley felt a sense of foreboding, “That sounds ominous doesn’t it?”
Leaning slightly toward her his eyes filled with restive thought, “Yes, it does. I thought Johnny’s death had nothing unusual about it except a sadly fatal error in exiting strategy.”
“Do you need to go now?”
“No, we’ll meet tomorrow.”
Ashley glanced around at the emptying beach area. Making a sudden decision she stood up feeling a new loneliness spread into her. She said, “I think it’s time I go home. Thank you for a wonderfully peaceful day.”
He felt a piercing sense of finality in her words. He didn’t want to simply check this day off to an unusual experience and let it go at that, “I’ve enjoyed being with you. Will you see me again?”
His words caused her heart to pick-up its beat. Feeling constrained by the failure of those earlier relationships she glanced away from his penetrating stare toward a family near-by gathering-up their belongings.
Her eyes saw the family; her mind caused them to disappear from view as the day flashed before her within its wholeness. She had been acutely aware of the many glances women had sent Gary Alexander’s way. No man had impacted her so immediately as this man had.
Mr. Gary Alexander had brought a unique experience to her.
Ashley’s mind leaped into an imagined future of a relationship with this handsome younger man. She found herself torn between what she desired at this moment and what she thought might be true about most men today.
And while she had disliked stereotyping anyone she had an even greater desire not to define this man by a generalization. Yet she told herself that she didn’t want to be continually apologizing for her age either.
In spite of the powerful attraction she was feeling for Gary Alexander, she wasn’t sure she was willing to bear the brunt of the shallow assumptions so many people held about the younger man, older woman relationship.
She wondered if she had the strength to risk spending time with him. Would it be worth the possible hurtful ending of a relationship with him?
Gary felt his heart begin to pound. He saw the hesitation on her face. His mind whirled searching for something to say that would allow her to accept his interest as genuine with no ulterior motive but his male interest in a possible relationship with her.
He lifted himself up to stand beside her, “Will you give me your phone number?”
Ashley felt her legs go weak. She wondered if she had the emotional strength to begin a relationship with this powerfully alluring man. She couldn’t let go of the idea that any relationship with this extraordinarily attractive man would be a high-risk one.
For the first time in a long time she wondered if the years spent alone after her last divorce had allowed a recovery process to take place in her.
Her eyes felt imprisoned by his. Slowly she felt an earlier sense of risk-taking peek around this corner of her life.
Shutting off further challenge she took her eyes from his and reached for her purse. Opening it, she took out a pen and a small piece of paper. She wrote her telephone number on it and gave it to him.
Relieved, he asked to use her pen. She handed the pen to him. He wrote his cell-phone number on a portion of the paper she had given him. Tearing the paper in half he handed it to her.
They once again looked deeply into each other’s eyes.
She felt as though she had just crossed the Rubicon.
Gary walked her to the parking lot. They said good-by. Turning to reach for the handle of her car door she suddenly turned back around to face him. She brought her fingers up to his face and stroked his cheek, “Thank you so much for coming to my rescue.” Her eyes kissed him. He felt her caress flow down deep into his body.
He wanted to put his arms around her waist to lift her bodily up against him and put his lips on her mouth. Instead he smiled down at her nodding his head in acceptance of her thanks.
Then as though he were moving in slow motion, he reached forward and drew her toward him within a gentle embrace to whisper, “You’re welcome.”
Driving home Ashley went over the day with Gary Alexander.
She felt his presence so strongly that he seemed to be riding with her in the car. Ashley couldn’t shake off the feeling that something extraordinary had taken place between them. She felt thankfulness flow through her for having made the rare decision to go to the beach in those early morning hours.
Gratefulness that he had been there at the time of the approach of the two men made its way into the moment. She rapidly moved away from looking closely at the possible outcome of the morning if he had not been there and had not been the type of man he had chosen to be.
Ashley had been forced to learn that her smallness had often worked against her safety. Being a woman in a small body in a world of increasing license to target the vulnerable, had taught her caution.
All men she had ever encountered were taller and stronger. Most women were taller and stronger than herself. It had been a late-to-come caution that had encouraged her to live within a vigilant watchfulness.
The self-taught awareness she lived with today had provided a level of protection from situations that could have presented harmful or even devastating consequences to her. She was not a masochist. Pain was not appealing to her. Not emotional or physical pain.
For the first time in a long time she felt safe with Gary Alexander. It had been a wonderful feeling. She had wanted to soak in it and not let it go. It had seemed to her that he had opened her prison and offered her an almost forgotten sense of freedom.
She turned the car into her driveway and shut the engine off. Sitting quietly thinking about her life at this moment she had trouble believing she had ever lived daringly often capriciously taking chances with her life.
She wondered, once again, about the hidden forces deep within her that had driven her behavior in the distant past. Her early teen years had erupted in the risky entertainment of racing cars on country roads summer and winter with anyone who would accept her challenge. Many did. In winter thick ice had covered those long straight highways with sudden turns that forced resisting tires to take any curve on two wheels.
One evening, on her sixteenth birthday in a snow storm she had dared God to kill her as she pushed the car she was driving to its limit of one-hundred and twenty miles an hour, soaring without let-up for eight straight miles on snow covered narrow pavement toward home.
Slowing her speed upon entering the city limits, she had sat motionless behind the wheel at the first stop-light, her heart pounding and wondered why He hadn’t taken her dare.
She remembered ice-skating on thin ice away from all rescue, laughing and daring her friends watching in fear to come onto the cracking shimmering not-deeply frozen lake. She had acted out halloween pranks that could have put her in jail.
On the farms of friends she balanced herself on narrow wood two-by-four’s above angry rampaging bulls. She had challenged the boys below her to follow her across to the other side. They never had.
Teetering on iron bridge rails across busy highways, she had challenged other teens to follow her. They hadn’t.
Dating early, she had experimented with sensuality in the back seat of high-school dates caution only in refusing to go all the way. On and on she surveyed these early excesses seeing them - sometimes with amusement - mostly, with astonishment that she had not been date-raped or brought injury to others and that she had survived.
Flippant to bullies, gentle to lambs, she had carried a mixture of inner sorrow and haughty defiance to the world around her.
At the time, she had never wondered where this dangerous recklessness came from or why she had not made a closer examination of what it was that she had been trying to outdistance. Her friends had tried to warn her of the danger by their refusal to aid and abet her compulsive drive toward adrenaline-releasing hazardous adventure.
She hadn’t understood until much later that she had been living as though she had been daring herself to die.
A decade later it had been a friend who had suggested that she had lived within an early death wish but had clung to a slender thread of hope in spite of it.
Proof of her contention, her friend had claimed, was in the reality that the youthful Ashley had usually been alone in the daring and potentially self-destructive situations and had never used alcohol or drugs to prime the pump of her drive toward self-annihilation. Those choices had tipped survival in her favor.
Later Ashley had not been sure if this analysis had a legitimacy but she had been willing to listen to it and wonder if it were true who had been the most responsible for such despair living within her younger self.
In time, her children had brought a sense of unusual worth to her own existence. She had always known that she wanted children. Her babies born beautiful and healthy with sweet natures had given her a happiness she hadn’t known could exist within her.
Yet she couldn’t shake reality that once they were grown their lives would withdraw within a natural growth away from her own. The thought hadn’t displeased her. She had cherished freedom and had wanted them to be free.
Ashley had carried a long understanding that the repetitive generational flow of life toward new generations was a thing compellingly natural.
What had chased her relentlessly through her woman’s life was an inner emptiness within her womanhood. It had been a penetrating aloneness she had not been able to find a way to dispel. This inner sense of personal failure had chased her down those busy years of child-rearing and care-giving others.
She had tried filling up the hollow that was herself; first with the youthful first marriage. Secondly through the marriage to her children’s father. When the proof came that he had never loved her and had defrauded her from the beginning of their relationship she recognized that an inner paralyzing emotional numbness had taken up residence inside herself.
She had never believed women who claimed a career can take the place of a special man in their lives. She couldn’t believe that later in their lives the memory of professional success could replace the love of a man. She had once examined this possibility in her own life and had found it inexplicable.
She had always known that her woman’s self was incomplete.
She had come to understand that death was not always physical. This truth had caught up with her when that numbing reality made battle with her long-held hope that one day she would feel the fullness of love and joy within a unique intimacy and finally be made whole by the celebrating love of an unusual man.
Gary Alexander walked to his car slowly. He had watched Ashley drive from the parking lot without looking back to where he stood. He couldn’t tell from his line of sight if she had even glanced in her rearview mirror at him during her final exit out of the beach area.
He felt a new loneliness enter the moment.
Driving toward his home he felt tiredness overtake him but was content within a new perspective. He carried with him a pleasing sense of having spent a relaxing afternoon with an attractive sensitive woman, experiencing no pressure to be anything other than who he was. He liked the freedom in the feeling. He had liked the sensuality of their encounter.
He knew that he wanted to see her again.
The memory of the phone call from Roy Hudson reached out to draw him back inside their short conversation. Roy had stated that the cause of Johnny Hart’s death had recently been questioned by someone.
Gary went over the call in his mind. Roy Hudson had told him that an anonymous phone call had come into the station a couple of days ago regarding Johnny Hart. A disguised voice had suggested that the circumstances of his dying should be reinvestigated.
He wondered why anyone would wait so long to suggest a reinvestigation into Johnny Hart’s death.
Gary hadn’t been surprised that Roy would bring him into this situation. All those remaining at the station were aware that he and Johnny had become fast friends after Johnny Hart had been hired.
Pulling his car into the garage he turned off the engine. Inhaling deeply, he got out of the car, opened the trunk, removed the beach paraphernalia and placed it on a shelf. He punched the garage door button lowering the door back into a closed position.
Entering his home he noticed a light flashing on the home telephone message machine. Strolling over to it he clicked it on. His ex-wife’s voice entered the room, “Cassy called me. She said that a rumor is making the rounds that Johnny’s death is being questioned as more than an error in judgment. Have you heard anything?”
There was a pause and then she finished, “Kevin’s tennis match is Friday.”
He nodded his head muttering softly into the quiet room, “Thank you.”
Turning on the kitchen light he walked to the refrigerator and took out a small bottle of water. Opening it, he swallowed half of it, capped it and placed it back into the refrigerator.
Sitting down on a kitchen chair, his mind captured the image of Ashley, once again. She seemed to have entered the house with him. He wanted to call her to see if she were home. Abruptly he chuckled softly to himself. He knew that the real reason he wanted to call her was to hear her voice again.
Putting down the impulse, his mind went back to the call from Carolyn, his ex-wife. Cassy, short for Cassandra was Johnny Hart’s widow. Cassy and Carolyn had early in Johnny’s and his friendship became friends. He recognized again how fast rumors moved through the close community of firefighters.
He thought of calling his ex-wife and telling her about the call from Roy. He decided against it. He didn’t want to hear her voice or answer the inevitable questions that would be coming from her about something he as yet knew so little about.
Wondering if Ashley would enjoy seeing his son compete in the tennis championship Friday, he thought about asking her to go with him to the match. Deciding that it was too early to suggest this type of date to Ashley he let the idea go.
The next morning, Ashley showered, turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. Remembering Gary’s tall good-looks she gazed pensively at her nakedness reflected in the mirror.
Bringing her hands up to cup her breasts, she smiled back at her reflection running her eyes over her body, “Hmmm... I wonder if he would find this to his liking?”
She suddenly wished she were the most beautiful woman in the world. She just as suddenly hated time. Sighing, she dressed, moved out into the hallway, shut the bathroom door behind her and walked toward the kitchen.
Pouring herself a glass of orange juice she drank it slowly thinking about how to go about her morning. Rinsing out her glass in the sink, she placed it rim down on the top dishwasher rack.
Stretching, she went into the living room to go through her morning exercises. She would walk two miles as she did every day but not now that would be an afternoon break for her.
After making her breakfast, she cleaned up the remaining dishes. Sitting down at the computer she checked her email. She replied to a note from her son, Derrick, who had asked her how things were going.
She thought of telling him about meeting Mr. Incredible but something told her to hold-back any mention of their meeting. She wrote him she was hanging-in-there and asked how his life had been treating him.
Ashley felt a familiar thankfulness for her son’s sweet nature within an abiding integrity when she sent off the email reply.
Opening up the file that held the novel she was working on she tried to focus on the plot that had earlier unfolded in her mind. Gary Alexander’s image kept popping-up and interfering with her concentration. Her body had held on to the sensual experience that being with him had aroused within her.
Ashley held her sexuality within a distinct framework of centralized importance. Her interest in her own sensuality had begun early. In spite of her early interest in sex her first sexual encounter hadn’t taken place until meeting the boy she would marry too young.
More recently, she had turned down offers by attractive men to experience them sexually with no strings attached. She had denied herself the opportunities because she had never been able to see sex as just another sport.
Ashley had placed sexual activity with a man she loved and who loved her, within an experience that promised to be the most riveting personal dynamic she would ever encounter in life.
In spite of the long and punishing denial by her children’s father, of her right to be as powerfully sexual as she had longed to be. His unrelenting muting of her sensuality hadn’t caused her to lose her belief that there was no other intimate experience as multi-dimensional as bonding or as full of escalating pleasure that exploded into a uniting ecstasy as the loving male and female connection acted out through shared sexuality.
In Ashley’s view, having sex with a man she didn’t love was an act of masturbation using a man’s body. It allowed orgasm but left her empty.
Her husband had taught her that sex with a man who didn’t love her was a sacrifice of the sensual self to an emotional narcissist who maintained his sense of sexual superiority within a mechanical and spiritually-empty sexual experience. Orgasm happened only within a machine dynamic.
The longer she had examined the human sexual experience, the more she looked at it within an objective framework, finding it interesting but a profound failure how the human ego can be willing to settle for less than the potential that unique human experience promises.
After her divorce to her children’s father there had been men who had approached bluntly wondering aloud if an evening out with her would allow sexual activity at some point in their encounter.
Others, married liars, had approached within a more disingenuous slight-of-mind that implied an interest in a “long-term” relationship in spite of their legal ties to another woman.
There had been men who she had accepted into her life for short periods of time within a cautious approach. Some of them were truthful and genuinely lonely. She had dated several. None of them had mesmerized her. One of them, injured by her resistance to his sexual advances had implied she was past her prime so what’s the problem.
She had laughed, telling him he shouldn’t talk about himself like that. It had been the last time she had been willing to see him. She had been thankful that he had not been a stalker only a man with an injured ego.
When Gary Alexander had kissed her in that playful impulsive moment, she had struggled to suppress a soaring desire to experience all of him. It had torn through her as powerfully as an unexpected earthquake brings down a hillside carrying all in its path that had resisted earlier movement.
Now she felt gripped by an intruding question; which type of the men she had known would he turn out to be most like.
With the thought a small flickering light of hope that he would be a unique man in her life had flared at the asking of the question.
The next morning Gary Alexander remembering Ashley, began his day with her on his mind. He fried scrambled eggs, drank an orange juice and finished his breakfast off with a cup of coffee. Leaving his home to hike his daily four miles he carried the image and sense of her with him.
He had felt the desire to call her within seconds of his waking from sleep. He would have enjoyed hearing what her voice sounded like early in the morning. He put the idea away as instantly as it had entered it. He didn’t know her waking time. He didn’t know if she woke up smiling or scowling or simply in a steady-state of emotional neutrality toward the beginning of a new day.
Returning to his home from his four mile hike, Gary met Roy Hudson turning his white Chevy pick-up into Gary’s driveway. He waved at him, walked to the front door and put the key in the lock. Roy got out of his truck and reached Gary just as the front door opened.
Shutting the door behind them, Gary motioned him toward the kitchen, “If you would like a cup of coffee there is a fresh pot on the counter.”
Roy nodded and walked toward the kitchen, “I would.”
Bounding up the stairs, Gary raised his voice slightly to say, “Give me a minute to shower and I’ll be right down.”
Roy smiled, “No problem.” He walked to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and pulled out a kitchen chair. He sat down and waited for Gary to return.
A few minutes later, Gary walked into the kitchen. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he brought it over to the table, sat down and asked, “Ok, what’s going on?”
Roy inhaled, “Like I told you. We got a call that suggested we reinvestigate Johnny’s death.”
Gary glanced up, “No clue as to who it was that called or why that should be done?”
Gary said, “I’m assuming you are wondering if I know something about Johnny’s state of mind before he died that might put you onto someone or something that would give you a direction to go?”
Gary’s mind flew back to that last week of Johnny’s life, “I’ve been trying to remember if something had been bothering Johnny around that time and I’ve come up with nothing that stands out. If there was something going on with Johnny like that, he didn’t share it with me. I’m sorry.”
Roy nodded slowly, “He was your best friend. Thought it best to begin with you. We haven’t got anything up-front that supports the implications of this phone call. I suggested we don’t go to Cassandra until we explore the implications of the call more.”
Roy looked startled, “She knows about the call?”
Gary nodded, “Yes, Carolyn left a message asking if I knew anything about the rumor that his death may have more to it than an error in timing exiting the burn.”
Roy shook his head, “Hmmm... There were four of us that heard it. Hank, myself, Stu and Sherry.”
Gary said, “Sherry and Cassy are friends.”
Roy stroked his chin, “Yes... But I had understood that we agreed to go slow on this. I thought all of us there understood that Johnny’s widow would not be told of the call unless a decision to begin an official investigation into his death had been decided on.”
Turning his head to look out the kitchen window, he finished thoughtfully, “If I can’t uncover something that suggests the caller knows something that we need to know or should have known, we’re not going further with this.”
Gary nodded in agreement, “There are disturbed people out there. It may have been a one-time impulse to jerk a station-house of firefighters around. You may not get another one. Have you had any combative situations lately answering a call?”
Roy brought his eyes back toward Gary, “None, but the usual stress reactions that come along with every run. No one has reported anything unusual, anyway.”
Gary nodded in agreement, “I thought Johnny’s body was intact. Couldn’t an autopsy have been done on Johnny?”
“It could have been but it didn’t happen. The tree crushed his head, and shoved his body down a ravine into a stream. The trunk of the tree ended up spanning the ravine.”
“Cassy didn’t ask for an autopsy?”
“No. It isn’t required for a death certificate. Under the circumstances of his death at the fireground, it wasn’t seen as necessary by anyone else, either.”
Roy Hudson paused to inhale deeply taking his eyes off Gary. He finished his second cup of coffee within a focused concentration for several silent minutes.
Looking at Gary again, Roy steered away from the topic of the troubling phone call and turned the conversation toward their firefighting history together. They went back over their shared experiences for another twenty minutes.
Getting up from his chair he thanked Gary for the coffee and conversation.
Pushing back his chair, Gary stood up and walked with him to the front door. Opening the door, Roy turned back and offered his hand to Gary, “Thanks again!”
Shaking Roy’s hand, Gary said good-bye, “Nice to see you again. Sorry, I couldn’t be of more help. If you think of any way I could be helpful let me know.”
You have finished Chapter 2 Of A Mountain Too High By Duke Stevens
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