I had spent Thanksgiving night, with a bottle of gin, curled up on the sofa under a cozy afghan knitted by my grandmother. And I was planning on doing the same tonight.
The family room was at the back of the house and was an amalgamation of Sam and myself.
It contained my white sofa from my single girl apartment, the very same sofa Sam and I had made love on for the first time. Sam’s brown leather recliner from his bachelor pad, and an old coffee table from his home with Barbara that had the kid’s initials scratched into its surface.
Sam’s favorite item in the room, though, was an old lamp decorated with pictures of him and his friends on different hunting and fishing trips.
There were old High School yearbooks, family photo albums, the kid’s trophies, and knick-knacks from our trips taken together. All the things neither one of us could bear to part with were here in this room.
Photo albums were piled high on the coffee table from other nights spent in this room trying to recapture the past. I found the one from last Thanksgiving and started aimlessly leafing through the album.
There were pictures of Sam all dressed up in a tux. He looked so handsome that night. His smile radiated the peace and happiness we were starting to feel in our marriage.
At the beginning, it wasn’t all champagne and roses. There were difficult times. I had to learn to share. I had to learn to be responsible for another person not just myself. I had to learn, not only to tolerate Sam’s children, but in my own way, appreciate them. And then there were Barbara and Tina, two ex-wives – enough said!
The most important thing I learned was discretion about the hidden things – things I found out about Sam that were never, never to be shared with the world. Things like his name, for instance. Sam’s real name wasn’t Sam Larson it was Samuel Larstein. My Sam was Jewish. He was fronting as an upper middle class white guy. I learned that there are different shades of white, just as there are different shades of black.
The next photo was of me in my ‘faux’ Oscar de la Renta black and white dress. That dress was all the rage last year.
There was a picture of David with his motherAdaand daughter Kaila. The man was so lonely you could actually see it in the pictures. His face smiled but not his eyes. There was no joy in David’s eyes.
I continued looking through the album turning the pages bringing up old memories. I turned the next page and there was Sam, a big smile on his face with his arm around the neck of a guy I wasn’t familiar with. It was the caption underneath the photo that caught my eye. The caption read, “A Toast To A Fallen Friend.” Who was the fallen friend? And who was the guy in the picture?
Puzzled, I pulled the photograph from its plastic casing and examined it more closely. I stared at the photo for some time before it reregistered in my alcohol-numbed brain. The friend they were toasting was dead. And now Sam was dead. Did that mean anything? My head was hurting from the effort of thinking.
One wall of the family room was devoted to books. Not rare editions or expensive leather bound books. Just books. Sam’s High School yearbook was somewhere within the bookcase. I rummaged through the different shelves until I found what I was looking for. I took the yearbook over to the sofa and started matching faces with those in the photograph.
Sam had made it easy for me. Stuck in the yearbook was another copy of the same photograph clipped to one taken years earlier. It was a picture of four young boys around the age of twelve or maybe a little older. The picture must have been taken at a fun house, although the background looked real. They appeared to be standing in the middle of the street at the intersection of Seventh Avenueand Sterling Place. In the background was what appeared to be the tail section of a plane, a very large commercial plane. I could make out some of the plane’s call numbers – UNITED. On the back was written the names of the boys in the picture — Sam Larstein, Saul Abramovitz, Curtis Brooks, and Rebecca Schuster and the words Park Slope, December, 1960. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – a plane crashed in aNew York suburb? Nonsense!
The man in the more recent picture was Saul Abramovitz. He and Sam were toasting their friend Curtis Brooks who died in nineteen eight-nine in aSioux Falls,Iowacrash. Call it intuition or what have you, but I knew that this was not a coincidence. Suddenly, I needed to know more about Sam’s dead friend.
When Sam was alive he used the Discreet Detective Agency to screen prospective employees. He never wanted anyone getting on the air and using WKXR as a sound stage for his or her own agenda. The number for the Agency was in the Rolodex on Sam’s desk. He kept a duplicate of everything from the office here at home. I practically ran down the hall to his office.
Someone was there. The agent on duty said that the Holidays were actually one of their busiest times. One phone call and I had Curtis Brooks’ whole existence faxed to me. It seems Sam had requested the same information on Curtis a month and a half ago.
He’d been married to the same woman for fifteen years, was the father of four children and worked as a certified public accountant. He lived or did live inSioux Falls,Iowa. According to the detective agency, he’d died on his way home from a business trip in a plane crash overSioux Falls,Iowa.
The nameSioux Fallskept reverberating in my memory banks. Why did that name sound so familiar? And then I remembered. It was the site of that horrendous plane crash. The one in theIowacornfield. Every TV station had broadcast the pictures for weeks afterward. I remembered watching as the plane attempted to land and then flipped over and erupted into a ball of flames. I couldn’t imagine anyone surviving that. Sam’s friend had not.
I needed another drink. Something strong. Sam always kept a bottle of whiskey in his bottom desk drawer. I didn’t bother getting up and searching for a clean glass. Sam’s dusty coffee cup was sitting exactly where he’d left it. I poured the cup half full and took a big swallow. My chest heaved from the burning liquid. It was there staring me in the face. OK, ask the questions.
Was it a coincidence that both friends had died in plane crashes? Sam had always said that there were no coincidences.
Why would anyone want to kill a certified public accountant fromSioux Falls,Iowa? Did Curtis find out something on that business trip that he shouldn’t have? Was he laundering money? Had Sam found out? Was that why Sam was killed? My imagination was running overtime?
I got up from Sam’s desk and paced the room for a few minutes coming to a stop in front of the window that looked out onto the garden. Nighttime had fallen and how fittingly for Thanksgiving weekend, a harvest moon had risen on the horizon. The moon had cast its yellow glow across the white and black shadows of the garden. I remembered sitting in that garden last summer with Sam’s arm around my shoulders. Sitting – no words – just the communication of touch.
Was my imagination working overtime trying to find a reason for Sam’s death? I realized more than anything else, I needed a reason why my husband was dead and why my life had come to a screeching halt. I needed an answer to why, because if there was a reason and I found it, maybe I could bring my husband back to the land of the living and things would be right again.
Exasperated with my own foolishness, I walked back over to Sam’s desk and resolved to stop this insane search. Sometimes, things just happen. Nothing would bring Sam back. If I continued with this foolishness I’d only stir up bad memories for Mrs. Brooks.
Being rational instead of emotional, I decided I could get the best use of my time by going through Sam’s emails as David had requested.