That Dean was not prone to suicidal thinking should be established beyond a doubt by the thoughts that went through his mind as Gene Cassidy drove his van down 280, past Sneath Lane and then the curving exit under the freeway for the short jog to SFO. But he did consider rolling down his window and jumping out to free himself of the madness of Gene Cassidy, had there been some way to do it harmlessly.
If there are any among our readers who, at the conclusion of the Cassidiad, had taken us up on our invitation and ventured speculation about the safety of the little deerskin bag in Gene’s possession, you now have an answer of sorts.
That is, it should be clear that Cassidy could not, in fact, be trusted to fulfill his promise to Dean that he would not open the three paper-wrapped packages in the deerskin bag. So, yes, to the letter of the law, Gene failed that test.
But what if we open up our definition of custodial responsibility? What if we examine Cassidy’s execution of his responsibility beyond this narrow definition? What if Gene had, by his broken promise, without it being his conscious intent, protected Harlan, and maybe other FOSOA members, from being influenced by the contents of the deerskin bag?
We leave you to ponder these notions while we return to Dean, in the front passenger seat of the van.
Dean was closed down. He could not assume that anything Gene Cassidy told him was true. Human flesh? Come, on, Gene. He thought he might get a modicum of his pride back if he could catch his friend engaging in fuzzy thinking.
“How in the world do you know that those were flecks of human flesh?”
“Well, I have an old friend, Jesús Cortázar. We went to school together for a couple of years before I transferred to State. We were roommates for a semester. He works in a forensics lab in Mexico, so I sent him a sample, and he confirmed that it was human tissue.”
“And you did not tell me this because…?”
“I sent it off to him a few months ago. It was a few days after I discovered what was in those little packages in the leather bag. And the guy’s been busy, you know? I just got the results back about a week ago. I was waiting for the holiday madness to subside. You know, my mom wanting to have the dinner with her boys. You know. But I was going to, Dean, soon as I could.”
Dean did not respond. His chill was not lost on Gene, who responded to it as if words had been spoken.
“What? You think I should have said, ‘Hey, Dean, my bad but I opened up the packages in that little leather bag and you should not give that thing to your son,’ while you have work to do and this party and time limits to get everything done? You know the holiday drill, man. New Year’s, sometime, maybe even before, I was going to tell you about my discovery.”
Dean did not know how much he could believe of any of this. Maybe some, maybe none, and what, really, were the chances that it was all true? Slim, very slim.
So he withdrew. He wanted to escape from all this but the escape out the window would be suicide. And he was not going to kill himself, though he was at a loss as to what he had to live for. So he simply withdrew, went inside and looked out his window at the Christmas lights whizzing by and the cars and trucks rolling along beside the van.
Some of the cars were filled with shadows of movement, laughing people with a smiling driver, his or her face lit up by the passing street lamps that arced over the interstate. On other faces, the street lamps revealed sad lines and tired looks of unhappy families, driving from disappointment to disappointment. There were drivers of commercial vehicles with places to go, a terminal to drop off an empty, or a warehouse ready to receive goods for the post-Christmas sales. They all had places they had to go to, Dean thought, and in contrast to him, probably families they wanted to be with, whereas Dean had a family he did not want to be with. And no place to go.
At the airport, Jerry pulled his bag from the back of the van, hugged his brothers and his mother and squeezed the shoulders of Maggie and her mom. He offered an apology to Dean for being uptight back in the city.
“We’re cool. It’s all cool. It’s all good,” Dean managed to say, trying to sound benevolent.
The sidewalk in front of the terminal came alive with Be safe and Have a good flight and Call if they don’t let you on. Merry Christmas!
It seemed that neither Gene nor Dean had much to say on the way up north. As they drove through San Bruno, Gene broke the silence: “So, where do you want to go?”
“Yeah, well, I’m not totally sure of that just yet. I do need to get the little leather bag and the stuff that goes in it, back from you. Then again, I don’t know. I suppose it can all wait… No, I need to get that stuff back. I may have to follow up my confessional with a show-and-tell.”
“There’s more in there, Dean. We need to talk. It’s pretty strange stuff. Let’s wait, though.” Cassidy’s head jerked in the direction of the other passengers in the back, to indicate that he wanted to wait till they were alone.
“Have the contents been abused by your studies of them? Is everything still there?”
“Dean. Man, of course I avoided harming anything. It’s all there, all the strange little pieces. But I want to wait to get into the contents with you, if you don’t mind?
“Now, where do you want to go? If you can’t think of some place, you’re welcome to come along and make up your mind later. I’m taking Maggie and Paula to Marin so they can walk Oscar, and then Maggie can take her mom home from our place. Then I’m going to drop off Mick and my mom at the old place in Alameda. Anywhere along the way, you get a bug to get out and go on your own, you let me know. If I think you’re going to be an idiot, though, I won’t let you. No street person imitations, OK? Come up with an idea. OK?”
At Gene and Maggie’s place in Santa Venetia, everyone but Mary Cassidy got out of the van. As Dean and Mick said their goodbyes to Maggie and her mom, Gene went into the house. He came out, kissed his mother-in-law again, did the Happy Holidays thing and got back in the van. From his outside coat pocket he retrieved the little deerskin bag and put it in Dean’s lap.
As they rolled toward the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Gene directed his attention to his mother and brother in the back, talking over the radio. Jerry looks good. Yeah. Is he seeing anyone in Colorado? There was this one woman but she joined one of those big churches and she didn’t want to see him anymore. Nice to have him here. Yes.
Then Mick announced that he’d just gotten a text from Jerry. Well, he got on the 9:30. Next stop: Denver.
The goodbye scene was repeated on Haight Avenue in Alameda. Gene had to pick up some pots he had brought over to cook his contribution to the Christmas Eve dinner. Once these were stowed in his van, there were more hugs and thank-yous, smiles and Happy Holidays!
Then it was just the two old friends rolling again.
“So you want to talk?” asked Gene.
“Don’t want to, or can’t, or won’t?”
“Just don’t have much to say.”
“It’s no biggie, man. You know that?”
“I am a father. You are not. No offense, Gene, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, OK, I hear you. No argument, OK? Where do you want to go, then? Let’s get you there and we can talk about all this some other time. Whataya say?”
“I don’t really know. I guess anywhere but home.”
“You want to spend the night with us?”
“No, not really. Could we go through the city? Take the Bay Bridge and not go back over the Richmond-San Rafael?”
“Yeah, OK, if you want. And that would be because…?”
“Well, I don’t want to go home and have to face my family. But I am getting an idea of some place I might go.” Dean paused. “So, what did people say after I left?”
“I wasn’t there for long, just a few minutes before I had to get the family rolling again. The old guy was weird. Wanted to know if I had the little bag. Mick kept calling me to come upstairs to drive Jerry and them to SFO. When I left and went up the stairs, Scilla was going full-fang prosecutor on the old man. He was looking pretty meek. If he were a turtle, his head would have been out of sight.”
Dean laughed for the first time since the presence of Blake had driven all Christmas cheer from him. ”Better him than me. He is the cause of all this.”
Dean’s laughter was short-lived but it had loosened him up. He was not sure if he was ever going to forgive Gene for breaking his promises, mentioning the deerskin bag to all those people, opening the little packages. But he had, after all, forgiven him for stealing Maggie nearly 20 years before. And he had to admit that had actually worked out OK.
But the decision as to how he would deal with Cassidy’s broken promises would have to be deferred. In that moment, heading toward the Bay Bridge, Dean knew that he needed a friend more than he needed to nurse rancor toward a former friend.
He decided to open up, then, to Gene, told him that, back in April, it was not chance or synchronicity that had brought Blake to the hospice steps. The old guy had stalked him, in order to get to Harlan.
“That sly old motherfucker!” was all Gene said, as they headed toward the city skyline and the same lights that Dean had seen from the west, looking down from Twin Peaks as he had wrung the truth out of Blake, just hours before.
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