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The Pale Blue Sky

by Jack Lynch

Part 5 - Carey, Chapter 9

A Find.

Spring semester. He wasn't even two weeks into classes when he received a text message from his mother to call home right away. When he reached her, he found out his grandfather, her father, had passed away.

Sad, not tragic. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years. Carey hadn't even seen him in over five years. His mother told him the funeral would be in three days. Out of respect for him and as a favor to her, she asked him to attend.

Two days later, he jumped in his car with an overnight bag and drove five hours to the city where his grandfather had lived and would be buried. When he arrived at the hotel where he'd been told to report, he was surprised to find it was a five-star luxury hotel. This was definitely out of character with his parents' frugal spending habits and the modest way he had been raised. Thinking he would be rooming with one of his relatives, he was surprised when he was assigned to his own beautifully appointed accommodations.

A small hospitality room was reserved for the family to get together that night. When he arrived, he found more of a party atmosphere than a wake. His parents greeted him warmly as did relatives he rarely saw. He got reacquainted with his three cousins, all of whom were younger than him. 16, 12, and 8.

The funeral service was the next morning. Because his grandmother had died several years ago from cancer, his grandfather's primary mourners consisted of his mother, an aunt, and his uncle. Remarks, including the eulogy, were brief and respectful.

Burial at the cemetery was equally so. Almost perfunctory.

As the crowd began to disperse, his father came up to him.

"We're all going to go for lunch and then we'll meet with the attorney."

"What for?"

"To read the will, of course."

Carey looked at him with surprise.

"Well, everyone is here. We might as well get it done."

After a brief lunch at a nearby restaurant, they all drove to the attorney's office in a caravan.

When they arrived, a legal assistant escorted all of them into a large wood paneled conference room. Ten family members were in attendance.

His grandfather's attorney came in. A distinguished looking man. After the legal assistant escorted him around the room to introduce him to each person, he beckoned them to all sit down for the reading of the will.

The first part of it sounded like any other will. When it came to the part where his grandfather's assets were to be awarded to his heirs, everyone sat up straight. Carey didn't understand all of the language but it was pretty easy to get that a trust had been created for the benefit of his mother, aunt, and uncle.

A summary of the assets to be placed in the trust was read. Carey's mouth opened and his jaw dropped in surprise. His grandfather's holdings included a vast array of commercial property, office buildings, technology parks, and a 30-story office tower that dominated the city's skyline. In addition, each one of them was to receive a bequest in the amount of five million dollars in cash. Several people in the room let out long sighs.

"And then we come to the grandchildren," the attorney said.

Carey was already reeling but his attention was riveted on what followed.

Naming each grandchild, the attorney said that each one of them would receive an account in trust for them that would fund their entire college education. If they chose to go on for post graduate work, this would be fully paid for, too. In addition, each one of them would have unrestricted access to one million dollars in cash once they attained the age of twenty-one.

Carey could hardly feel his face.

Everyone in the room seemed to relax. After a few other bequests and charitable donations were announced, things wrapped up quickly.

With lots of back slapping and hugs, the family broke up into groups to commiserate. It was almost too much for Carey to absorb. The idea that his student loans were gone was amazing. His first thought was to buy a new car with his new found wealth.

He's not sure why he did it. Perhaps it was habit. But, amidst all the chatter he decided to check his email. Amongst the spam and cursory emails about course assignments, one message stuck out.

The title in the message line was, "Photo Shoot." When he opened it, the email read: "I attended the meeting last semester where you were interviewed. I'm working on a project and am wondering if you would let me take a few pictures of you. Please respond at your earliest convenience." It was signed, Miranda Hathaway, BFA, MFA, College of Fine Arts. An office address and telephone numbers followed.

In spite of everything that had just happened, he felt his pulse quicken and a line of sweat form along his hairline. Part of his mind said, "No Way!" Another part…? Jerking himself back into the present, he quickly stuck the phone back into his pocket.

Next stop for the family was his grandfather's house. They were all invited to take whatever they wanted before the house and its contents were auctioned off or sold. Carey vaguely remembered the house from past visits. He'd never paid much attention. But, standing before it now and knowing what he now knew, the house surprised him. It was a simple one story Mid-Century style ranch house in a middle income neighborhood.

No one had actually lived in it for nearly 10 years since his grandfather had entered memory care. But, the lawn, the paint on the exterior, and the inside of the house were in perfect condition. It was as if someone was actually living there. Everything was spotless. The furniture was dusted and polished. Everything looked old and outdated but very well maintained.

A free for all ensued. Family members went about the task of raping the house of any and everything that could be valuable. Carey watched as dishes, silver, lamps, furniture, and art work was carried out of the house by the gleeful survivors.

Carey wandered around aimlessly. He found his grandfather's bedroom at the end of one hallway. After scanning the room, he entered the large walk-in closet. A long row of expensive looking suits on one side, shelves of starched and folded dressed shirts on the other side. There must have been 25 pairs of shoes, all shined to a high gloss, lined up neatly on shelves below the dress shirts.

When he opened one of the accessory drawers he found a beautiful pair of onyx cuff links with a matching tie clasp he somehow remembered his grandfather wearing. Along with selecting the cuff link set as a keepsake, he picked several beautiful silk hankies. When he brought one of them to his nose, it still smelled like his grandfather's after shave. A clear plastic dry cleaning bag sat on one of the shelves so he used it for the jewelry and hankies.

After leaving the bedroom, Carey dodged his aunt and uncle as they struggled to carry a large painting through the hallway out to their mini-van. Strolling to the opposite side of the house, he decided to check out his grandfather's study.

The room was as he'd remembered it from visits as a little kid. Mahogany bookcases lined three of the four walls from ceiling to floor. A big overstuffed armchair sat in front of a large television that pre-dated flat screen technology. Carey ran his fingers across the spines of the books as he walked around the room. His grandfather must have been a voracious reader. Many of the books were on economics and politics. There was a wide variety of fiction with what seemed like the entire collections of several authors. One section held rows of art and art history books.

Randomly, Carey discovered a narrow volume stuck between two books on investing. The title on the spine shocked Carey: Faggots .

He pulled it off the shelf and stared at the provocative cover of a naked man, shot from the side, as he bent over. The author's name was Larry Kramer. When he opened it up, he found the title page autographed. "To Sanford, Cheers! Larry Kramer." Sanford was his grandfather's first name.

Quickly thumbing through the book, he stopped for a moment on a random page. Scanning down the narrative, his eyes stopped on one passage. "Dinky Adams's ass was the first ass Fred had ever rimmed."

"Holy crap!" Carey blurted out without thinking. Embarrassed, he looked up but no one else was within earshot. Was his grandfather gay? Or, was he just more broad minded than anyone could have imagined?

He continued to thumb through the book until a small piece of paper slipped out of it and fell to the floor. Picking it up, he saw that it had a set of three numbers on it: 24, 68, and 13. What could that mean? Some kind of riddle? The secret code needed to find buried treasure on a map? Carey shrugged his shoulders, closed the book, and jammed it back into the bookshelf.

Turning away, he saw his grandfather's desk. Carey sat down in the plush but worn dark brown leather desk chair. Absentmindedly, he opened and closed the drawers. He reminisced to himself about how he used to raid his grandfather's small stash of butterscotch candy. No candy in the top drawer now; just stuff. Pens, pencils, letter openers, a couple of two cent stamps, and some assorted papers. Opening and closing the other drawers, he just found a bunch of old files and other assorted junk.

When Carey opened the deeper bottom right hand drawer, he was surprised to find a safe that had been custom built into the desk. It was a combination safe. He doublechecked the top drawers to see if there was anything resembling the safe's combination. Nothing.

"Huh," he said out loud.

Suddenly, it dawned on him. He jumped up, went to the bookcase, and grabbed the thin volume off the shelf. Returning to the desk, he opened the book up, shaking the pages until the slip of paper fell out.

Carey twirled the dial on the combination lock entering 24 right, 68 left, and returning to 13. The safe handle wouldn't budge. He tried it again. Same result.

He sat for a moment and thought. Was it some movie he'd seen or a book he'd read where they figured out the combination to a safe by advancing the numbers by one? So, he tried it. 25 right, 69 left, and returning to 14. He grabbed the handle, it turned, and he lifted the door open.

The safe was filled to the top with something. Whatever it was, it was concealed by a heavy piece of brown packing paper. When he lifted it off, he was greeted with a magazine depicting a naked teenage boy on the cover. He sat on the kind of chair you might see around a swimming pool, a bright orange beach towel partially covering it. The boy had an enormous erection. The title of the magazine was Mel Roberts Boys . The sub-heading said, "Male Review." A black oval with white lettering promised, "A graphic portfolio of male beauty in the springtime and seedtime of their lives."

His pulse quickening, Carey lifted the magazine out of the box. Quickly paging through it, he immediately saw that it was filled with black and white pictures of teen boys. Most were naked, many with erections, some making out with each other. Turning back to the title page, he took note of the magazine's issue date: May, 1971, issue No.5.

His grandfather?!?! Carey could hardly breathe. He glanced around to see if anyone else was around. Dropping the magazine like a hot potato back into the safe, he threw the book in after it. He shut the door and twirled the dial. There! He thought. Locked up with the secret combination inside. With luck, no one would ever be able to get it open again.

Carey's instinct was to flee. Grabbing the bag of cuff links and hankies, he headed directly out toward the front door. The front hallway was a beehive of activity. Family members busily boxed, wrapped, and carried their new found treasures out the front door.

Just as he got to the door himself, Carey glanced down. An empty cardboard box lay right next to the threshold. Ironically, it was the perfect size to hold the contents of the safe. He paused for a moment. Acting purely on impulse, he picked the box up and did an about face, returning to the study.

Remembering the safe's combination, Carey quickly opened it. Reaching down, he dug his hands down along the sides of the stack of magazines, lifted them all out, and dumped them into the box. There must have been twenty-five or thirty magazines. After throwing the book on top, he locked the box top by grabbing two adjacent flaps and folding them together, repeating the motion with the other two flaps.

No one gave him a second look when he marched the box and his dry cleaner bag out the front door. After packing it all into the trunk of his car, he bade farewell to his parents and other relatives. Having checked out of the hotel before the funeral, he hit the road for the return to campus.

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