Multilectual Daily Online Magazine focusing on Architecture, Travel, History, Interior Design, Vintage and Contemporary Fiction, Craft Beer, Coffee, Bungalow Living, San Diego's Historic North Park and Balboa Park by award-winning journalist Tom Shess
Sunday, May 11, 2014
NORTH PARK DETECTIVE / ORIGINAL FICTION
MEN OF THE HOUSE
SHORT STORY By Thomas Shess
He heard a woman scream.
jumped off his office sofa. He had been asleep.
the hallway shone through his opaque glass door.He couldn’t remember any of the tenants in
the two-story building working so late.
So far, the only one he knew
involved with the building was the property manager, who was based
downtown.As for the other tenants, he hadn’t
met any of them in the three months since he opened his investigations agency.
his snub nose .38 from his desk drawer and moved into the chilly hallway.
door at the far end of the hallway was wide open.
on the glass door read Emily Slater Tax
Services.Inside a radio was playing
softly.Fresh coffee was mixing with the
aroma of stacked duplicating paper.
inside.Contents of her purse had been
rifled through and dumped on the floor.
He heard a
stumbling overhead that sounded as if a heavy box was being dragged
across the roof,
flashed on how the landlord had avoided fixing the lock on the main door
downstairs.It was open 24 hours.Any jerk could come off the street and see
reached to the top of the stairs.
A woman was
struggling with a transient. “Stop it.Just let go of me,” she was furious. The bum had his arm around her head.
go of her,” Gresham shouted.He pointed
the gun at the man’s face.
is no business of yours,” the bearded man turned.He was holding a small paring knife at the
woman’s jawbone beneath her right ear.
his index finger to his lips. He didn’t want her to scream again. Steadily, he
moved forward. “Drop the knife!”
time.Let go of her.”
dealing with this scene, man.Go mind
your own business?”
cocked the Smith & Wesson.
one more step and she gets cut—bad.” The bum drew a thin line of blood on her
second away from having five bullets into your ugly face.”
than you.I’m not the one holding a
knife to a woman.”
any closer!” the bum shouted.He moved
the knife away from her
throat and pointed it toward
freed the woman’s right hand. Instantly, she lashed at his face scraping
long nails across his forehead.
howled in pain. Blood from the gash on his eyelid blurred his vision. She
followed with a fierce uppercut under his chin.His tongue was mashed between his teeth.Blood flooded his mouth.
knife hit the floor.
kicked the knife away
from his grip, she slammed her knee into his crotch.The blow blew the
air out of his lungs.Her nails tore at his ear as she pushed him
to the asphalt covered roof.
she yanked the man’s head into the air by his greasy hair then
slammed it hard on the metal corner
of an air-conditioning vent.Blood
poured from his scalp.
whoa. You got him down.Slow down.”
Gresham pulled her away.
was drenched in adrenaline.“I got five
kids at home.I’m working
my ass off through tax season and
this bastard wants to get cute.I’ll
show him what cute is.” She pulled away from Gresham only to step around him to
kick the bum in the ass.
enough.You clean his clock any more and
no one will believe he attacked you.”
Slater, her dark hair now pulled back into a ponytail, sat on his sofa sipped
the tea he had made for her and the two investigating cops.
glanced at Gresham, who was sitting on the corner of his desk.“You smoke?”
The patrolwoman saw the
unlit cigarette in Emily hand and handed her a small book of matches.
“Thanks.Doctor tells me I shouldn’t smoke. If I
thought it made a difference, I’d stop.”
noticed no sign of her calming down.
The bum, however, had sustained enough damage
that the woman officer called
the paramedics.The gash along the back of his head needed
blew her smoke away from Gresham. “They seemed disappointed that I wanted to
press charges against that scum?”
they were concerned that his blood might be on you, on me or on them.The guy probably has every known disease,” he
said and noticed discoloration under her eyes.Two classic shiners were making their debut.
should go to the emergency room.He cut
paramedic took care of it.”
that knife was ugly.You have to get a
tetanus shot at least.”
have a doctor’s appointment every day this week.I’ll have them take a look at it.”
the phone to call anyone?’
I called my boys while you were talking to the officers in the hall. I told
them I’d be late getting home. They’ve been going through hell lately and now
this.I didn’t have the heart to tell
them over the phone.I’ll tell them when
I get home.”
old are they?”
12 and the triplets are ten.”
is a basketball team and one monster food bill,” Gresham smiled.
all I got.”
are you going to tell them?”
always seems to work,” Gresham said.
for everything you did tonight,” she said, “I thought I could handle him
sooner. I did what he told me and kept waiting for an opening.He was stronger than I thought. And God did
you handled yourself nicely once you got away from the knife.”
took a couple of self-defense classes at the Navy wives club.Are you sure you don’t have any smokes here?”
offer to drive you home, but I don’t have a car.”
“Really.You’re an odd duck. I thought everyone had a
moved her from San Francisco.I didn’t
need a car there and I...”
interrupted, “That’s OK, I’m parked on the street. Thanks for the tea it hit
took a long look at her face.He hadn’t
seen such discoloration happen
so quickly.“Maybe you should go see a doctor—your eyes
and cheeks are getting really bruised.”
medication I’m on makes any bruise I get really ugly.”
sorry.” Gresham thought for a second then decided not to ask any more
personal questions. But he did
wonder if there was a husband or boyfriend in the picture. If so why wasn’t he
you’ve been an angel,” she repeated, “I’ll bring the donuts tomorrow.”
you deserve a day off.” Gresham walked her to her car.
stuck his head into Gresham’s office.“Did the tax lady go out of business?I can’t get anymore mail into her box downstairs.”
don’t know? I’ve been out of town.”It
was then that Gresham realized it had been more than a week since Emily Slater
beat the bum senseless.In that time
he’d gone to and returned from San Francisco.
linebacker-sized postman shook his head.“She’s such a nice woman.Hope
she’s not back in the hospital.”
“Really?”Gresham saw sadness in the man’s face.
postman continued, “She told me she has leukemia.Bad stuff.She’s been in and out of remission.She’s such a good person.Every
cold day she makes me coffee.I don’t
get too many chances to sit for five minutes.But she’d always ask about my family.She makes everyone feel like family.And, I keep drinking her coffee and delivering mail from clinics,
hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies—you name it.It just ain’t fair.” The postman spoke slowly
in a baritone that made his words seem like a news broadcast.
have a husband?” Gresham asked.
that’s the worst of it,” said the mailman.“Kids are all on Social Security, plus what’s left of the Navy
insurance. Their father was a Navy flight instructor.I don’t know the details but it was a
ago was that?”
told me once, I forget.But it has to be
at least ten years.She told me she was
pregnant with her triplets when it happened.”
lot of punches for one family to take,” Gresham said. “It has to be tough
on her—having all those boys.’
didn’t answer.Instead he wore a
helpless expression.“Say, I
almost forgot my job. Sorry,
man.She was on my mind because I got
this letter for you from her.I’m not so
god damned nosy all the time. I just feel like she’s family,” he repeated.
took the letter.The return envelope was
on Emily Slater’s stationery.
The handwriting looked like one of
her boys addressed it.
Gresham said to the postman.“What’s
like you to be here when I open this.”
faces were solemn.
but neat handwriting turned out to be a dinner invitation.
smiled.“It’s not bad news.”
postman’s shoulder’s straightened up.“That’s good news.”
read on. “Thank you very much for helping our mom the other day.We would like to invite you to dinner on
Friday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m.We
would appreciate the courtesy of a reply.”A stamped envelope was included.
invited me to dinner,” Gresham smiled. “All five boys signed it.”
Anderson grinned.“A personal thank you--that’s
something special. That’s great, I can’t get my kids to pick up after
and her boys lived at the end of Granada Avenue where the North Park community
ends and becomes Switzer Canyon.On the
south side of the wide shrub choked canyon is Burlingame, another bungalow
neighborhood near downtown San Diego.
was an upscale two-story early 20th century craftsman home with some
paint chipping happening on the window frames and the upstairs roof fascia, but
the lawn and shrubs were trimmed and green.The sun was about an hour from setting basking the city
in its famous Mediterranean
glow.It was a light that inspired
artists to either grab their paintbrushes or their golf clubs.From the side of the house the view was of
the nearby municipal golf course.
small plaque was posted above the doorbell.It read: The Dunlap House, 1915.Historical Landmark No. 139.
teen, almost Gresham’s height answered the door.He was wearing dark slacks, a white shirt and
a tie that most likely his mother picked. “Mr. Gresham, welcome aboard, sir.
I’m Josh Slater.”
didn’t pay attention to the firm handshake, instead he looked at the receiving
line.Five sons oldest to youngest,
tallest to smallest stood in the foyer of the gumwood paneled home.They were dressed the same as Josh.
thank you for the invitation.You have a
beautiful home.”Gresham arrived wearing
gray slacks, a red vest sweater over a white shirt and blue tie.
triplets smiled.The one at the end of
the line looked confused.He whispered
to his sibling.“He’s not wearing a
middle triplet smiled and turned to his brother.“Then, don’t ask him to hang it up in the
pointed toward the dining room, “A famous architect named Douglas Dunlap
designed the house in 1915.Mom said to
give you a tour. She’ll be down in a minute.”
admired the rich ruby color of the wood wainscoting.The walls of the adjacent living and dining
room were painted in tans and muted green.Hardwood oak floors were covered with Gingko patterned area rugs.
and his family lived in this house for a long time.” Josh said.
house,” said the second brother.
stopped.“This is my brother, Douglas.”
shook hands down the line.
doesn’t like to dress up.He’d rather be
killing aliens on his computer.”
Gresham smiled.“What kind of computer?”
“Nice.That’s close to what I have.Mine’s a 3200.”
was only three inches shorter than his brother, smiled revealing a
mouth full of braces.“That’s cool.My mom has one like that in her bedroom.”
Slater stood behind the triplets, who were eager for their time in the
spotlight.They squirmed.Josh put his hand on the head of each brother
as he introduced him. “This is Matthew…”
I’m Matt.Pleased to meet you.”
shook hands.The ten-year-old had a
firmer grip than his older brothers.
is Mark.”The triplets were
identical.Gresham was trying to
associate each with the different color of ties.“And, this must be Luke.”
of course, my pleasure. Is it Mike or Michael,” Gresham shook the silliest
the Monster.” Josh said.
you going to be our new dad?” Mike asked bluntly.
his eyes. “Mr. Gresham is our guest for dinner.”
actually was ready for such a question. “You have a wonderful father.
No one will ever replace him.”
sir,” Josh grabbed his brother by the ear.“I’m sure there’s something for
you to do in the kitchen.” He marched Mike out of the room.
the Majors already.” Matt stepped forward.
great. Do ten year olds get to play with the 12 year olds.”
we play just as much as you do,” said Mark.
Slaters didn’t share the darker coloring of the eldest brother.Instead they had reddish streaks to their
brown hair.Josh’s complexion was pale,
while the other brothers had ruddier skin.All five had a row of freckles crossing ear to ear across high cheeks
and perfectly shaped noses.
dining room table was a stunning piece of shining oak.Place mats instead of a tablecloth revealed
the subtle beauty of the patterned inlays, a design that was repeated in the
eight chairs.The place settings were
precise. The china and crystal glassware had distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright
designed. A massive lantern shaped period chandelier was muted and gave off a
was not an architectural style Gresham was familiar with, but in the short time
he had been in North Park, he admired the neighborhood’s upscale bungalow chic.
excuse us, sir, we have things to do in the kitchen,” Doug shepherded his
brothers to the back of the house.
returned.“I hope you weren’t too
mortified by Mike.”
having a good time.I can’t remember the
last time I had a home cooked meal.”
Next to the
living room was a large parlor that had French doors leading on to a large wrap
around front porch.The walls were
covered with family photos.
led Gresham to a series of framed photos on a cellaret.He pointed to a uniformed naval officer who
was standing next to a small boy.“That’s me and my dad.All of
these photos are of me or Doug with dad.”
leaned forward. “That’s an F-14.”
sir, he’s standing on the deck of the U.S.S. Constellation.He was a fighter pilot in the Gulf War then became
a flight training instructor.He taught
other pilots how to land on carriers.”
can’t think of a more difficult job,” Gresham said.He could see from the photos that the younger
Slater men looked very much like their father.Only Josh had the delicate features and coloring of his mother. Gresham
looked around the room.Framed were many
of his father’s medals, including a framed letter of condolences from the
your father’s name?
Edward Slater, Jr.He graduated from the
U.S. Naval Academy.That’s where I want
looked at Josh.There was no sadness in
the boy’s face.“I was told your father
was killed in a crash.”
timer missed a wave off, sir.The rookie
pilot panicked.A large crosswind
surprised him and he slammed it into the deck.Dad went down with him.”
his job, sir.I hope to do the same
grades up and you won’t have any trouble.”
sir.Mom said you’re a private detective.”
what I do for a living.”
always been a detective?”
“I was a
cop for 20 years in San Francisco.”
“That’s a tough job, too.” Josh said.
smiled. “So what’s for dinner?”
chicken, brown rice with gravy.Spinach
salad sautéed fresh
carrots and cut green beans and
Parker House rolls.Do you drink wine,
“No.Water is fine.”
pressed a button next to the light switch.Then he pointed to another photograph. “Dad was awarded a Navy Cross.”
for the Gulf War.He was the wing
commander and they didn’t lose one jet off of the Constellation.”
pretty proud of him doesn’t it?”
sir, but…” Josh didn’t finish the sentence.
or Mike or Matt interrupted. The
youngster was wearing a white apron that hung down to his ankles.“You rang,” he grinned.
wine.Cranberry juice and San Pellegrino
guys run a tight ship here.Your mom
must appreciate it.”
‘s easier to run a neat house than it is to find things in a messy one,” he
that your line.”
is she feeling?”
mother has terminal cancer, sir.We’ve
been told by the doctors she has about three to six weeks to live.”
was stunned at Josh’s bluntness. It wasn’t an answer he expected.
can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear that.”
what?” Emily Slater said softly as she walked into the parlor.Gresham was stunned.She was beautiful. She absolutely glowed.
was telling me you’re not feeling well,” Gresham finally said.
fine.Dinner is about to be served.Did Josh give you the executive tour?”
I am impressed with your boys and your husband’s accomplishments.”
blessed to be surrounded by good men,” she smiled. She was wearing a dark
mahogany colored dinner gown with a matching jacket that elegantly complimented
her pale complexion.Her hair was fuller
and much more styled that the last time he saw her.He know figured that she might be wearing a
so glad you could make it,” she grabbed Gresham’s hand and led him to the
kitchen.“They’ve been working like bees
since your RSVP.”
is great.Is this all their work?’
I’m more buttoned down than their father would have ever been with them.But I want them to be gentlemen.”
hope so.” She led him into the kitchen.
with her back to the counter was a very attractive woman in her late 20’s, who
had a remarkable resemblance to the boys.She was dressed for dinner while the four boys in the kitchen still had
aprons on.Gresham laughed to
himself.He could now recognize
Mike.He was the one with the reddened
was slicing the roasted chicken, while the triplets were filling the salad
bowls and carrying them out to the table.
is my sister Marie.”
reached across and shook her hand.There
was pinkness to her skin that was crowned with auburn shoulder length hair.
look beautiful, Emily,” Marie said with a perfect smile.
you believe was my real hair color.I’m
so jealous.” Emily pointed to her sister.
both gorgeous,” he smiled and realized it was Emily’s real hair.
I see you brought us a charmer.”
men invited him,” Emily nodded to her sister with a hint of a chiding gesture.
shall we sit down?”Marie said as she
picked up the rolls.
House rolls,” Gresham said, “I haven’t had them in years.”
Midwestern,” Marie said.“We’re from
At dinner, Gresham
learned that Marie was a government attorney, who had recently moved from
Lincoln to San Diego.Now, she lived
with the family.There was hint of a
divorce, but Gresham was avoiding as many conversational landmines as possible.
the boys shared all household responsibilities.Josh handled the bookkeeping for his mother.They organized the shopping, including
constant runs to the supermarket.And,
although, he was only 14, Josh could drive the SUV if necessary.
boys were in charge of cleaning, laundry, dish washing, trash collecting, cat
feeding, landscaping and anything that needed to be fixed.
walked to the kitchen with Marie, carrying his dessert dish.The boys were busy clearing the table.Douglas was making coffee and Josh was
loading the dishwasher.
classy kids.I can’t believe how
efficient they are,” Gresham said to Marie.
they weren’t this way.They were the
biggest collection of piggies that I had ever seen.They were a mess.And, their schoolwork was falling away,
especially Josh.They were well on their
way to being regular punks.”
believe it,” Gresham said, “This isn’t something that they can fake.They’re perfect.”
knew her cancer had returned she sat them all around the kitchen table and told
them she was dying.She had invited one
of Josh’s teachers, who is a priest from Saint Augustine High to help break it
to the boys.
Nick worked with their grief.This
didn’t happen right away, but soon the boys realized what they had to do.Basically, Father Nick told them that life
wasn’t always fair that God must have had a bigger need for their parents,”
“Emily asked me if I could help Josh and Doug
raise the triplets.I moved out here in
have been complicated.’
“I lost a
fiancé.The guy’s going to be Governor
some day, but family comes first.”
first hand, Emily is a fighter.She’s
battling this isn’t she?” Gresham
“Of course, but what can she do?The Navy has brought in some of the top
cancer doctors to handle her
treatment.They’ve been great, but so
far she hasn’t caught a break.”
but she’s done the only thing she knows how?’
made sure she’s left me five gentlemen to run the household.I think I’m a very lucky woman.”Marie cleared her throat.“I want to thank you for helping Emily that night
on the roof.I stop thinking about what
could have happened.”
bastard was lucky I was there because Emily was about to put him into bum
is going after felony charges.The guy
has serious prior convictions for assaulting women,” she said.
slime met his match.”
turned to see her sister enter the kitchen.
thought for a minute they put you to work,” Emily said as she carried in a
glass of red wine into the kitchen,“Can
I interest anyone in a glass of port?” Gresham smiled.“Water’s fine besides I was telling her my
was not.I was telling him how proud I
am to be your sister.’
if you keep this up I’m going to need the entire bottle,” Emily toasted them.
triplets were making short work of the dinner dishes.Douglas was storing away the leftovers into
triplet stepped on the hem of his apron.Josh grabbed him before he fell to the floor.
just not your day, is it, Mikey.” Josh said with emphasis.
best grin of the evening came from the red-eared baby raccoon.
is served,” Douglas said.“Decaf, OK?”
Gresham said.“Lead the way.”
linked arms with his mom escorting her to the parlor as was fitting for the
oldest man of the house.
One in a series of previously unpublished original fiction by Pillar to Post blog.