51 Dead Pale Between the Houses High

Post interview, R.M. thought he’d take a look at the eroded bluff, see it for himself and at the risk of muddying his shoes, get as close as he safely could. He approached the old lighthouse beyond the strings of yellow warning tape, and heard his name called. R.M. looked up from the sodden ground.Chapter 51 Dead Pale

“Up here, in the lighthouse window.” It was Morris Mangold, leaning out and waving to him, lit cigar in hand. The flailing arm and the scrolling smoke vaguely reminded R.M. of the semaphore training exercises of his youth.

“Ah, Morrie, it’s you. Listen, my sincerest condolences on your nephew. I know we don’t always see eye to eye but I am sorry for your loss.” Morrie glowered, pulled deep on his cigar.

“An eye for an eye is right. Where I come from, somebody loses, somebody pays.”

“Well, you should come down from there,” RM coaxed, hoping to change the subject.

“I still own it, don’t I?”

“But it’s unsafe. Don’t let there be another accident.” Morrie made a menacing gesture with his cigar in the direction of the POPS.

“Accident you call it? Those pigs next door don’t care. They’d do anything to try and stop me. But they won’t.”

“But Morrie, it’s no secret that they want to stop you. Nobody had to die for you to know that. Surely the best revenge, if that’s what you want, is to stay in the business and keep on building. They do say that revenge is a dish best served cold.”

“Cold? I can hear the boy’s father crying from his grave, cold as ice, waiting for me to do something to get back at them. And I will.” R.M. had no idea of what this reference to family meant, although he comprehended the tone. But what could the man do to get back? Morrie’s threats were as empty as the air he punched.

“I know you must be angry. Anyone would be at first, angry and suspicious. But remember it doesn’t look good for them either.”

“Enough stink to go around?”

“Possibly. So take it easy, come down. Be safer, not sorrier.” He looked down at his own shoes, mired from standing in one place. “I’ve got to go.  I’m really sorry about what’s happened.” Morrie silently dismissed R.M. away with a thrust of his glowing cigar, and lapsed into self-absorption.

He’d gone up on a whim but ever the builder, Morrie noticed some of the limestone foundation breaking away under the makeshift wooden steps; the descent would prove tricky. If someone else fell here would he get sued? What if he fell himself? What if he called out for help? Nobody would hear him. R.M. was the only person he’d seen and now even he was out of earshot. No lake ferries nor fairies to whisk him out of danger, no handsome prince.

When he was a much younger man, about Rusty’s age, Morrie learned English as a second language. The curriculum included a long poem about a lady, a captive in a tower. Not only did she have to stay in the tower but she couldn’t even look out of the window. She could only see the outside world through reflections in a mirror. What kind of a life was that?

With verses to memorize and recite in front of the class, these particular lines had stuck with him, he supposed because they remained a puzzle. Why did the glass break? Was the framing badly done?

“The mirror cracked from side to side
The curse is come upon me, cried
The Lady of Shallot.”

Northeast toward the Water Tower. North Avenue marks the northern extent of the Downtown condo area.

Northeast toward the Water Tower. North Avenue marks the northern extent of the Downtown condo area.

Was his family cursed, too? No one had come to rescue his brother, Rusty’s father, when he was in police custody so long ago in the old territory no longer an entity. The shifting political boundaries, the quick turns in affiliation revealed the bending social mores. He wondered if his nephew had cried out for help, screamed even, like Morrie was so sure his brother must have done over and over. Could someone really watch another person die and not help? He suspected someone had, again, with Rusty. Since his brother had died in that way, Morrie had understood that any help would only ever be self-help, every decision only his. Nobody would ever rescue him, not from his self-imposed tower.

He stared at the water, waiting for something to happen. Nothing. What was it about these precious lake views, anyway?  Not that it mattered to him, as long as customers continued to pay a premium for them. He figured it was simply that they could afford it, and show it off. Like so many other things, the value came only from possession.

As far as something to look at, he could think of other things, plenty of other possibilities. Not that he ever spent much time gazing and thinking. That wasn’t for him. He had no time to be idle. So what was he doing here now? Feeling small and ridiculous in a way he didn’t much like, he wanted to go and build something, something big, something imposing, with his name on it. That was the Mangold way. He would be proud to be the builder of his own tower, even if he became a captive to it.

He was really more angry than sorry about Rusty. If they thought drowning a kid was the way to get back at him, forget it. If anybody wanted to stop him, it was him they would have to stop, not his relatives. Let them try. The police had come nosing around, a pair of them. What did he know about his nephew’s friends, his habits? Could he swim? Did he know anyone in the building? Any particular reason he would have been there?

Not much. Never heard. Maybe. Don’t know. Morris Mangold, on his brother’s grave, would never trust police. Nice kid. Worked hard. Trusted family and team member. A few of the POPS residents had attended the Grand Opening of his new development. He maybe remembered Rusty mentioning working out at a club. He didn’t know which one, there were so many. Morrie never worked out. If construction wasn’t enough exercise, what was? To relax, a game of cards and a few quick belts worked for him. He really didn’t want to relax, anyway.

He’d already spoken on the phone with Perry Frazing, his attorney. The usual advice. Say nothing, or as little as possible. Rusty was dead. It was not worth fishing around for reasons. Only revenge would suit him. But now with one less person to be a part of his life, would he build his success on hate? Go schmooze at yet another elbow-rubbing party?

A passing boat drifted into view, momentarily dipping out of sight in the swallowing waves as if to mimic his deepening disgust. The lake mirrored back his sinking hopes for this building site, then blackened beneath a lowering cloud, and gloom sealed up his soul.