"There are some secrets which do not present themselves to be told. Men die nightly in their beds, wringing the hands of ghostly confessors and looking them piteously in the eye- die with despair of heart and convulsion of throat, on account of the hideousness of mysteries which will not suffer themselves to be revealed."
( Edgar Allen Poe—The Man in the Crowd – 1840)
Spring planting was well underway, the calving and farrowing produced a healthy contribution of young calves and piglets to our livestock operation; we had not two but three more grandchildren added to our family; Chance and Tommy were well settled in Hawaii; Javier and Efrain now occupied the bedroom upstairs Chance and Tommy vacated; and Aiden and I moved downstairs into what once was Avery's room, secret passage and all.
The morning sun shone brightly on the graves marking Francisco Javier Espinosa De Los Montero and Avery John Morgan with a notation under his name, More father than uncle to Robert (Chance) Avery Morgan. After consulting with Chance, we replaced Francisco's grave marker with the single one for both men. We felt it was more than fitting! They loved each other so much in life, let them be together and remembered for as long as it takes stone to turn to sand.
I'd stopped, as I often do, to check on the grave site and visit. It may sound strange to some to stand or sit in a graveyard speaking to someone buried there, but I did and do and feel better for it! Avery took to me from day one and trusted me with everything, more so than his own son.
"We had a letter from Chance yesterday," I began, "They are settled in and really enjoying themselves. I know you hoped early on in his life he'd take over the family business but we both know he wasn't interested. His heart belongs to Tommy and they both wanted to return to Hawaii as soon as practical for them. Retirement was just the ticket!"
I didn't mention Chance would never leave while Avery was still alive, but Avery knew several years before his own death it was the case. For many years Chance and Tommy spent winter vacations on the island. Chance's home was modernized as time went on and comfortable for the two of them. After Tommy's parents died, an older brother and his family moved into the caretaker's home (where Tommy lived while he was growing up) rent free since they took care of the property while Chance and Tommy weren't there.
The past several years, since the business was reorganized, they'd been spending most of the winter on the island. Avery also visited them, but not more than three, possibly four, weeks at a time. He once confided in me, it was a nice place to visit but it wasn't home to him. Avery was born in Morgan's Landing, lived here all of his life, and intended to buried here.
Chance made it quite evident, through his own words, in the process of reorganization, he wanted no future involvement with "Bend in the River" Enterprises. He'd be quite satisfied with serving as an emeritus board member, collect his gratuities, and stay far away! I'm certain Avery was disappointed, but he understood and supported Chance's decision.
Two years prior to his death, Avery asked me, noting he only wanted me, to share a glass of wine with him in his office. I thought it was somewhat unusual since Aiden usually accompanied me. After the first glass of fine wine, Avery made certain the office door was secured, poured us another glass, before saying,
"No one needs to know the things I'm about to tell you and show you. What they don't know they won't have to lie about or testify to!"
The next several hours were not only enlightening, but frightening and still fascinating! His tale of intrigue, intimidation, deception, blackmail, bribery, maneuvering, coercing people, conspiracy, and skirting the limits of the law, and, yes, breaking it big time, was the story of his success in business and staying alive while profiting from it. He'd gathered so much information on people, the more lurid it seemed, the better, leading one to believe the files of J. Edgar Hoover's files on the sex activities of prominent people were children's bedtime stories. Behind one of the wine racks, well concealed and inaccessible by anyone except those with intimate knowledge how to gain entrance, was a secret, steel reinforced, fire proof concrete room with shelves of journals and a medium-sized safe.
I discovered Avery was an excellent keeper of records; very detailed records from the day he went to work for Leo Palestrini (Palmer) until present day, the day I met with him. The journals included day, date, time, and place of who, what, and why; money paid, money received, favors given, favors received, and favors owed; business investments, nefarious and otherwise. There was also an entry with the names and the dollars paid for avenging Francisco's murder! Avery, at the time we visited, was still not totally divorced from some of his former associates, still profiting from the association.
"There are secrets here," he instructed tapping a shelf full of journals, "which can be used for good or evil. Use them wisely and discretely and you'll have no one to fear – ever!"
It was then he announced I'd be the keeper of the vault and the secrets therein. He expected me to continue with the gathering of information to protect and guide our family. He agreed with my increasing philosophy not only to grow our current assets so we could provide for not only our growing family, but friends and those in Morgan's Landing in times of need, as well to disassociate us even further, in the future, from his "associates."
"You, Leapling, as some refer to you," he said pointing at me, "will be 'The Sword of Gideon'," the mind and strength behind the family."
Avery died, after suffering a heart attack, in the arms of his son, Chance. Avery took his usual evening meal at "Mudpuppy's," sitting at his usual table, and after dinner, ordered his usual after-dinner drink. It was normal for Chance to join him, giving them the opportunity to catch up on the day and enjoy each other's company. After a couple of sips, Avery looked at Chance, remarking,
"Chance, I don't feel so good!" and grasped his chest, starting to keel over.
Chance quickly rushed to grab him, summoned a waiter to call for an ambulance, and sat on the floor cradling Avery's head in his lap. Avery smiled up at him and both knew it was too late for any help.
"I'm leaving you, my lovely boy!" Avery whispered. "I love you so!" and was gone!
The casket was closed, at Avery's prior request, except for the private viewing and goodbye from family, including all of us. A short service by the pastor of Avery's church before the wake prepared us all for the inevitable tears and condolences from friends and others. Large crowds were anticipated, so Chance arranged for the wake to be held in the large hall at the community center.
The public was admitted beginning at one o'clock in the afternoon and the procession of friends, neighbors, those whose lives were affected in a positive way by Avery, adults who were school children first receiving their silver dollar at Christmas, politicians, and regular customers of "Mudpuppy's" and all of the other businesses Avery had a piece of was continuous throughout the entire time of the wake.
Pookie stood, arms around Chance and sobbed his heart out, missing so much the man who gave him his start and supported him over the years!
The hall abounded with sprays of flowers, potted plants, and large displays of flowers, all given as a sign of people's love and affection for the man who lay, ready to be buried in the family cemetery.
Chance and Tommy stood at the head of the casket, receiving each of those offering their condolences as they passed by the closed casket. I stood to their right, Aiden next to me on my right, then Javier, Efrain, Estelle, Carissa, and the rest of the boys. The message was clear to those who might wonder or care to know – I was the heir apparent of Avery's enterprises, holding all of the power he held in his oft times quiet ways! Those who knew me, knew I'd do the same. It didn't take much common sense to know where Aiden, Javier, and Efrain stood in the hierarchy either.
Just before nine in the evening, as the crowd began to dwindle, several black limousines arrived in the parking lot and a group of men in black coats, accompanied by a contingent of others who would permit no attempts to harm their masters, entered the hall. Of the group of men, I knew seven of them, hence really needed no introduction nor did they offer any to anyone in the line. Chance and Tommy received their handshakes and condolences along with some small talk concerning what a great guy Avery was in life. Individually, they stood before the casket, bowed their heads a moment, and moved over to me.
Each man shook my hand first, expressed his condolences, embraced me, gave me a small, light kiss on the cheek, and offered to be of assistance any time, any place; all, except Eddie who not only pledged his assistance, but apologized for upsetting me with the incident involving Javier and Efrain. His son and grandson, Michael did the same.
I thanked them for their concerns and condolences, expressing my hope we could continue to remain in touch, but felt more reassured with the feel of the 9mm tucked in a holster in the small of my back, knowing there were three more quickly available; one on Aiden, one on Javier, and the third on Efrain!
Aiden received a handshake as did Efrain and Javier. Javier and Efrain also received the apology, very profusely given, making certain they understood Eddie was contrite, offering them assistance in the future as well. Michael went a step further and asked if he could have a moment with the two of them, privately. Javier gave a nod and the three of them stepped to the side for a couple of minutes. When they returned, Michael looked very relieved!
Watching the black-coated men and their body guards work down the line, shaking hands with Estelle, Carissa, and the rest of the boys, I smiled to myself, thinking, "They know and they know I know!" I was reminded of a quote from Honore' de Balzac Avery used during our meeting in the office when he showed me all of the journals; The secret of great fortunes with no apparent source is a forgotten crime!"
How true, how true! Crimes and deeds for all intent and purposes forgotten as if they never happened, to the casual observers, but to those who knew, they could rise from the ashes such as the mythical Phoenix, ready to consume if so summoned!
"Well, Avery," I said aloud to the stone and grave in front of me, I must be on my way. Aiden and I are to have lunch with Javier and Efrain. We have some things to discuss. Apparently one of our state senators decided not to seek re-election and we need to establish a candidate for that seat. It won't take much effort, just money, since Javier and Efrain have completed some pretty intensive research on the prospect and I, for my part, read your journals."
We dance round in a ring and suppose
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows!
I hope you enjoyed reading "The Leapling"
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