Once again, this is the revised version of my previous excerpt of Deception Island. It ends up being about thirty words shorter than the original version.
Jason ran down to the deli a few blocks away to get a couple of sandwiches while Lisa started another load in the washer and folded his dried jeans. Lisa had a 2:30 seminar and they agreed she needed to attend, but until then she would help Jason with his laundry.
When he returned, they unwrapped the sandwiches–a pastrami on sourdough for himself, a turkey on wheat for Lisa and two bags of chips–on the coffee table and sat on the couch to eat. Jason had given away his dining room table years ago to make room for his desk, so meals were taken on the coffee table. For a few minutes they concentrated on their lunch. Because they’d overslept that morning, neither had eaten breakfast.
“Tell me about your dad,” Lisa said, pausing between halves of her sandwich. “What was he like?”
Jason wiped his fingers on one of the cheap deli napkins and thought about an answer to her question. “He was a man.”
“Well, I kind of assumed that.”
“No.” Jason shook his head. “Not just an adult male, but a man. There’s a difference.”
Lisa looked intrigued. “I’m listening…”
“He was strong and tough as anyone. I don’t think he was sick the entire time I was growing up. I know he never set foot in a doctor’s office unless it was for one of us kids, or when Mom got sick. He was a commercial fisherman until us kids came along, then, because Mom thought fishing was too dangerous, managed the cannery until he retired. Both are tough jobs that employ tough people.”
Lisa nodded and took a bite of the second half of her sandwich.
“But the same tough guy never raised a hand against his wife, never belittled us kids when we screwed up, never made us feel stupid. Life wasn’t perfect, by any means, but growing up I never doubted my parents loved each other and that both loved us kids.” He looked at her. “There’s an awful lot of people who can’t say that.”
Lisa hooked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. Her own parents had divorced when she was in grade school. Both remarried within a few years and she’d spent her childhood bouncing back and forth between the households.
Jason smiled as a memory came to him. “We had a dog when I was growing up, a goofy mutt named Festus.”
“Festus?” Lisa frowned.
“Festus,” he grinned. “It was the name of the lame deputy on Gunsmoke; my dad was a big fan.”
“Hey, I didn’t pick the name. I just loved that dog the way a little boy does. He was as much a part of my family as my brother, my mom, or my dad.”
“Like Hector,” he admitted. “Anyway, one day when I was nine or ten, Festus wouldn’t get up when I went to feed him in the morning. He’d never done that before. I went and got my dad, who explained that Festus was fourteen years old, really old for a dog, and dying.”
Jason nodded. “He explained to my brother, Jeremy, and me that everything dies sooner or later and that the best thing we could do for Festus was be there so he wouldn’t be scared. My father, the tough guy fisherman, sat down on the floor with us and took Festus’ head in his lap while me and Jeremy knelt down beside him. He held Festus’ head and stroked him and told him what a good boy he was, while Jeremy and I petted his back. We sat there like that until he finally stopped breathing.”
For a few moments, neither of them said anything. The remains of the sandwiches lay on the wax paper, forgotten, unwanted.
“He sounds like he was a really good man.”
For the first time all day, the loss of his father was beginning to feel real. He thought he might prefer the way it was before.
“You’ve never talk about him much.”
“Dad and I were never that close,” he said. “Not as close as I think either of us wanted.”
“Why’s that?” Lisa pinched off a corner of her sandwich and slipped the tidbit into her mouth.
“I don’t know. We just never had all that much in common. I think if my dad and I were just two men, unrelated, we’d be acquaintances, but not really friends.” He looked at her. “Know what I mean?”
“I was the artsy one, the one who took after Mom. Jeremy was the one who took after Dad. He was the football and basketball star, the hunter, the soldier. I sometimes thought Dad couldn’t quite figure me out.”
“What do you mean, ‘figure you out’?”
He paused for a moment, searching for a good example. “It’s easy to show your support for your kid when they’re a running back on the football team. You go to the games. You celebrate their touchdowns. You save their clippings from the paper. That’s easy. How do you show the same amount of support for your other kid who was named editor of the school newspaper? Then editor of the yearbook? There’s no cheering section for that.” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think he ever really figured that out.”
The dryer buzzed.
Lisa was on her feet before Jason could react. “I’ll get it.”
“I can do my own laundry, you know.”
She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Since you won’t let me come along to help you up there, doing your laundry lets me help you down here. Besides, I’m going to have to head to my seminar soon. You’re on your own after that.”
She hugged him then, kissed him again, and went off to fold his dry clothing. Jason remained on the sofa, staring at the remains of their sandwiches on the coffee table. After a moment, he reached over and began to re-wrap his sandwich. He was no longer hungry.
After Lisa left to attend her seminar, Jason worked on finishing his laundry, then packing the clean and folded clothing into a suitcase, then a second suitcase. He was going to be gone for several days, possibly a week or more, and the weather would be a factor. It was October, which meant he could be looking at everything from sunny days with highs in the eighties, to wind and rain, and even an outside chance of snow. In addition to underwear, jeans, slacks, various shirts and sweaters, he also packed a set of thermal underwear, a pair of wool socks, and a knit watch cap.
Finally, he pulled his only dark suit from its spot at the side of his closet and brushed the dust off the shoulders. Obviously, he didn’t wear it very often. He was more of a sport coat kind of guy, but during his senior year of college his father had insisted that a new graduate needed a suit. They’d spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon shopping the city’s menswear shops before deciding on this particular suit. Despite Jason’s protests, his dad had insisted on paying for the whole thing, including the alterations. He’d called it an early graduation gift.
It had been a memorable afternoon, just himself and his dad, wandering around the clothing shops of downtown Seattle; lunching on burgers and a beer at a hole-in-the-wall pub near Pike Street, then another beer; watching the fishing boats coming in to the docks on the waterfront. It had been the first time they’d spent any serious time together that was less father-and-son and more as simply two grown men sharing an afternoon.
He wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
He slipped the suit into a garment bag along with a couple of ties that seemed appropriate and added that to the pile of luggage near the door. For a moment, he stood there and scanned the apartment, trying to think of anything else he might need. Nothing immediately came to mind.
Lisa had insisted he spend the night at her place. She’d even offered to cook him dinner. He had offered no resistance. As a result, he would be leaving from there in the morning, not here, so he needed to make sure he didn’t forget anything.
He smiled suddenly to himself. You’d think he was going across the country, not just a couple of hours upstate. If he did forget something critical, it wasn’t like he couldn’t come back and get it.
Still, he wandered from room to room, double checking his mental list as he went.
He came to his desk and stood looking at his laptop and briefcase, lying among the piles of paper and file folders. They were the tools of his trade. He wasn’t originally going to take them because he wasn’t going up there to work; he was going up there to bury his father. Now he was having second thoughts. First of all, they were his toolkit in exactly the same way wrenches were a mechanic’s. Without all the contact information, software, and accumulated notes they contained, he would be worthless as a reporter. He almost never let them out of his sight for more than a few hours at a time. Now he was going to leave them in his empty apartment for a week?
What if Debbie called with a question about the Road Department story? He added his briefcase and his laptop to the pile of luggage at the door.
He already felt better, more complete. The sensation he was forgetting something had gone.
As he stood there, wondering what to do with himself for the hour or so until he’d head over to Lisa’s, his eyes fell on the pile of unopened mail sitting on the kitchen counter. He walked over and began to sort through it, pitching the junk into the trash, saving the bills to deal with later, and concentrating his attention on the few items that seemed interesting.
One envelope in particular drew his interest. It was a 9×6 manila, with his name and address handwritten in blue ink on the front. There was no return address. The postmark, though smeared, looked like it said Port Salish. His hometown. His dad’s hometown.
He examined the handwriting again, trying to determine whether it was his dad’s. Unfortunately, his dad was not a letter writer by nature and Jason wasn’t familiar enough with his writing to say whether it was, or not. Still, who else would send him something from Port Salish?
Jason opened the envelope and pulled out a photograph. A young Asian man stood at the stern of a boat. He wore faded jeans, a coat and knit cap and squinted unsmiling into the camera. Behind him on the left lay blue water bordered by dark ridges of forested land. To the right were the crowded boats and tangled masts of a marina. Port Salish harbor.
It was the standard souvenir photo his dad took for all his charter customers. But it was usually given to the customer. Why did he send it to Jason? He flipped the photo over, but there was nothing written on the back. Nothing written on it at all, no name, no date, nothing.
He returned to the envelope, shook it, then peered inside. There was nothing else. He’d hoped there’d be a note of explanation, something at the very least to identify the man in the photo. But there was nothing. Just the photo of an unidentified Asian man.
So why had his dad sent it? Apparently, he thought there was enough significance in the photo itself to make a note unnecessary.
He examined the photo again, trying to see what his dad had wanted him to see. The man in the photo was unremarkable. He looked to be of average height and build and a complete stranger to Jason. He studied the face for several minutes, but couldn’t kindle even a spark of familiarity. There was nothing in the background that caught his attention and nothing strange about the part of the boat he could see. It had to be something about the man. But the only unusual thing he could find was the fact that the man wasn’t smiling. Usually his dad’s clients were beaming when he took their photo. This man wasn’t. If anything, he looked grim.
Muffled voices sounded in the corridor outside Jason’s door. A second later he heard the unmistakable giggle of Trudy Benson. Her husband, Don, wouldn’t be far away. The two were nearly inseparable. They had lived in the next apartment ever since Jason had first moved in and the three had become friends over the years. He needed to ask if they would watch his apartment and collect his mail while he was gone.
He slipped the photograph into his inside jacket pocket and went to talk to his neighbors.