Dean had been right when he delivered his confessional to those gathered around the table tennis court, that they would know what had happened within a few hours. It turned out to be a lot sooner than that.
Shortly after Dean ascended to the main house and made his escape, Mick stuck his head through the open door. He was trying to call his brother Gene to hustle up, that Jerry had to be at the airport when they called out the names on the standby list or he would be dropped.
Gene nodded, began to bid a hasty Happy Holidays! to the members of the downstairs party. Scilla waved impatiently. She was too preoccupied with the old man and what he knew about any of this.
“Here we go — I am ready to kick some ass! Who wants to play?” said Staycee Gellen, but there was no response. Her soft voice and unfamiliarity with the sporting challenge struck little fear in the hearts of the other players.
Scilla turned from Blake. She was quite confused. “Harlan? Where’s Dad run off to?”
“I don’t know. And I don’t know what he’s talking about in that speech he gave. Lies? Who did he lie to? About what? I know nothing.”
“Wait!” shouted Blake, as best he could. “Just wait, everyone. Please. Be quiet. Please.”
Gene stepped in front of Blake on his way to the stairs, where Mick had just implored him again, with ever increasing urgency, to either hustle up the stairs or throw Mick the keys to the van so he could drive Jerry to the airport.
Blake grabbed Gene’s upper arm with both his hands.
“Dean gave you my little deerskin bag, didn’t he?”
From the door into the main house, Mick said, “Hey, let the man go. We gotta get our brother to SFO or he’s gonna miss his flight. Come on, man, let him go.”
Gene brushed off Blake’s hands and turned to go up the stairs.
“Later, man. I have to talk with Dean, but first I gotta get my brother to the airport.”
Then Gene smiled and waved at Flo: ”Great talking to you. Keep looking for the truth. Stay brave. Don’t let ‘em scare you into silence.”
“Come on, Gene. Jerry’s already out at the van. And Mom and Maggie, everyone. We’re all waiting on you.”
To his hostess, Gene said, “Scilla. Great party. Thanks for having my whole crew.”
“No. It was great. Really appreciated.”
“I insist that whoever has my little deerskin bag, that they return it immediately.” Blake’s voice was void of any expectation that his stern pronouncement would produce anything.
Then Candice spoke up. “My dad did have it. He told me it was a present for Harlan for when he turned 16. He told me he got it for him, and that I wasn’t supposed to tell…” She turned to Scilla, “…my mom. That’s ’cause Staycee and me– Well, I don’t want to get into it, OK?”
Blake’s reddened. The skin stretched across his face as tight as a balloon just before it pops. “He told me he doesn’t have it anymore. Please! Who has my little deerskin bag?”
Perhaps Candice and Staycee were carried on their memories back to that drizzly spring day when they had the escapade at Dolores Park, with Farley Ralston and his crew and the police and the homeless guy, the dog running off with the deerskin bag in its teeth and Dean and Chato in that unexpected embrace on the sidewalk. As they had laughed at the homeless man’s plight with his rain-pants that would not stay up, they now laughed at Blake as his voice went tight and tiny. It seemed they wanted to contain their mirth but the backs of their hands were not sufficient to damn it up.
This only increased Blake’s frustration. “I want my little leather bag and I want it now!”
“Gene, Bro, just throw me the keys then, I’ll take good care of your van. We gotta get Jerry to his flight. Come on, man.”
Gene took one more step up the stairs. He put a hand on Blake’s shoulder. In a soft voice he told him, “I have your little bag. Man, we should talk. You know? In private. Just you and me.”
“Are the contents disturbed? They were not intended for you.”
“Like I said, we should talk. But I gotta get my family rolling. Seems like we been trying to get to SFO for hours. So, OK, man, we’ll talk, but later.”
With that, Gene bounded up the stairs.
Scilla turned to Blake.
“What’s this all about? Aren’t you the man who spent the night with us in April? The homeless man my husband brought home from his cult that night? What are you doing here?”
“Aunt Scilla,” said Josh, “this is Uncle Burton… He came with us. He’s spending Christmas with us. Uncle Burton, this is so uncool, what you’ve done. My dad’s gonna be mad at you. You have some problems, Uncle, and you ought to see, like, some geriatric professionals or something. This is so not cool. You messed up this Christmas. These are nice people here, and you messed it all up.”
Blake put on a smile that stretched nearly ear to ear. It was rubbery in its grotesque shape, and stubborn. It froze to his face as if it were stuck there. Then the smile collapsed and his countenance collapsed, ancient with fatigue. “I need to sit,” he said. “I don’t feel so good.”
“Who’s surprised? I mean, after all that you’ve done.”
Scilla was not at her most compassionate. Her trouble with Blake’s machinations was compounded by the pieces of the puzzle Candice now supplied, as she told how she and Staycee had discovered the deerskin bag in Dean’s underwear drawer in her parents’ bedroom. “A long story, Mom, don’t go off on me with this, OK?”
Staycee squeezed Candice’s hand and whispered into her friend’s ear a barely audible “Thank you” for not incriminating her in the telling of the story.
All this made Blake more upset: ”He took what I had given to Harlan, and he did whatever he did with it. He gave it to that man with the silver hair. I don’t know why, I don’t know why.”
Dewey suddenly stood and went upstairs. No one questioned this; the look of urgency on his face suggested he was on his way to the toilet. But as trivial as his exit appeared, it was, nonetheless, duly noted along with everything else, by Josefina Sedgewick, her thumbs still dancing over the keypad of her smartphone.
Dewey, though, did not go to the toilet. He went to his dad in the living room, where Mitchell sat with Dewey’s mom and his Grandpa and this semi-stranger, semi-relative Uncle Hank.
Dewey hung back for a moment and waited for a break in the conversation. The adults were energized by a discussion about old-growth redwoods. It seemed Hank and Flo lived near an old-growth grove. There appeared to be cordial agreement about the majesty of these giants, along with some different angles on the rights of property owners and whether a two-thousand-year-old tree has any legal standing in a sane political society. After Grandpa asked the rhetorical question, “Yes, but are stoned hippies sitting in trees in protest the most rational way to settle these notions of legal philosophy?,” Dewey saw his chance to interrupt.
“Dad. Uncle Burton — he’s downstairs. He’s done something weird.”
“No, not exactly, though he is being a little weird right now. He’s downstairs with the table tennis. I guess he, like, angled for the Colfaxes to put him up? You know, to take him in as like a homeless guy or something, in need of a place to stay. Back last April. And he never told them he was, like, related to us. It’s really pretty weird. Aunt Scilla is seriously not happy with him. They’re all down there in the garage.”
As Mitchell stepped down the stairs he walked into what appeared to be more of a courtroom, with a full-open-throttle cross-examination of the alleged perp by Chief Prosecutor Priscilla Colfax. With his booming voice, those tight-knit eyebrows casting daggers of shame to anyone within range who might be questioning whether they had done the right thing of late, Mitchell quickly commandeered the proceedings.
“Uncle Burton! What have you been up to? Come on. Out with it. What’s this all about? Did you insinuate yourself into this family’s life? Why would you want to do something like that?”
Blake sat in one of the folding rental chairs. He stretched his legs out as if he were sleeping on an airplane, his hands carefully folded in his lap. He closed his eyes. His upper lip quivered with an involuntary spasm. His mouth opened but what came out of it was mostly mumbled and incoherent. “All by… by zeezearch, ina deerzin bag.” He opened his eyes. They had a distant, crazed look in them. “Zere’s two Mitchells now, zere’s one zere and…” He tried to rise up but fell back onto the chair, bounced off it and landed on his side on the garage floor.
“Oh, my god!” said Mitchell, “I think he’s having a stroke! Someone, call 9-1-1 — Quick! Who’s got a phone down here?”
“I’m on it!” said Josefina.
“I’ll get Hank.” Flo bounded up the stairs, taking two steps with each stride.
Minutes later, the sound of sirens rose and fell with ever-increasing volume as they approached Regan Street.
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