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Now what? Three days in, and Dad has reached the selfsame impasse his client no doubt reached before she issued her appeal; the trail of Stuyvesant Fink has dead-ended on April Fool's Day. Every search online, encountering untold Finks, produced no one who was related to the Finks of Kenmore; Dad had checked all obituaries the day he first was hired. Parents, usually in-the-know about offspring (on the lam or otherwise), Rachel and Bertrand Carlyle were the natural place to start—though hardly helpful lodged, as they were, six feet under. The sole peculiarity? Rachel had died on her husband’s day of birth—no more significant than the coincidence both had died on reaching age seventy, husband preceding wife by a full sixteen years. Were either still alive today, he would be ninety-six, she well nigh eighty. Worth a trip to the neighborhood? Probably not. Despairing of leads more promising, however, Dad books a flight...

 

*

 

...and is taxi-cabbing through the sleepy Village of Kenmore by 5:15 pm... knocking on doors up and down Deerhurst Park Boulevard... meeting mostly old folks (the community having aged)... his ploy:

a sizeable endowment, recently come to light, that the Fink Estate bequeathed to their only begotten child Stuyvesant, who, alack and alas, seems nowhere to be found on God’s Green Acre, thus forfeiting his right to...

"All that money; what a shame! Isn’t that a shame, Millie?"

"A crying shame, indeed. Won’t you please come in, Mr. O’Rourke? Would you like a cup of tea? I’ve just put on the kettle. Won’t take a minute. Roy, escort our guest, why don’t you, into the parlor."

Settling onto a sofa, circa early 20th century, Dad avails himself of the Peterson’s hospitality—as warm as their home’s decor is quaintly out-of-date. A collection of phonograph records dominates one of two built-in bookcases; curios, photos, and trophies populate the other. A fireplace in between—replete with tool rack, screen, and bellows—snaps and crackles with the voices of real wood up-in-flames, the mantel decked in icons identified with autumn: half-shucked Indian corn, an assortment of gourds, plus his and her jack-o-lanterns. The Petersons themselves are like apple-core dolls—withered and shrunken; she is dressed in a linen house coat, he in dungarees—their anachronistic outfits contradicted by contemporary drollness.

ROY

Nice neighbors, the Finks. Quiet.

Millie, returning with a tea service, sets it down politely.

MILLIE

Now more than ever.

O’Rourke detects her wink.

Straight man / comedienne established, the Petersons now relate—with timing honed by half a century’s practice—the saga (once removed) of Mr. and Mrs. Fink, their problematic son, and assorted (if irrelevant, from Dad’s perspective) subjects:

ROY

When exactly was it that Rachel Fink passed?

MILLIE

Out or away, dear?

ROY

Ah, yes; Rachel’s favorite exclamation: whenever something really bothered her she would roll her eyes, flutter her lashes, cross both hands upon her chest, and utter with a disapproving shudder that she was "fit to faint."

Roy’s impersonation is less derisive than it is fond, his sentiment duly noted by Mrs. Peterson—who gives her husband’s questions an orderly reply.

MILLIE

The last time Stuyvesant paid a visit; and the sixteenth of September.

ROY

Bert’s birthday, was it not?

MILLIE

Yes. She made her exit from this life a gift to him in the next.

ROY

Well phrased, my Sweet, well phrased. A loving pair they were. Two turtle doves.

MILLIE

Who hatched a cowbird.

ROY

Stuyvesant. Yes; he was a bit incongruous.

MILLIE

I’d say macabre.

ROY

Brilliant boy, scholastically, top of his class. At UB. Spot of trouble after that. Where was it?

MILLE

MIT. Run out of town on a rail, I believe is the expression. Rachel...

ROY

Rest her soul.

MILLIE

...was "fit to faint."

ROY

Compounded by his bringing home that girl—innocent enough, but guilty by association—showing up, as she did, before the dust of scandal settled. Well-to-do, was she not?

MILLIE

It must not have lasted; she didn’t attend the funeral.

ROY

True. Very few did, as I recall. Former colleagues. Bert was in Aerospace. Rachel taught college. Both had retired, of course, so their professional associations had mostly lapsed. But family... Was there anyone?

MILLIE

Stuyvesant was it. Out of the blue he came, back into it he departed.

ROY

House went up for sale. Sold within a month. Market was depressed, so it must have been priced to move.

MILLIE

How else could the Updikes have afforded to buy?

ROY

True. I suppose you’ve met Helen and Roger? Nice people.

MILLIE

At a distance.

ROY

Millie disapproves of them for neglecting to mow their lawn.

MILLIE

If the lawn were all they neglected, I’d be baking them apple pies. Roger is a grease-monkey in love with broken-down autos; Helen is his moll with an ape’s IQ to match; those classics in their yard are from the era of SUVs.

ROY

Unsightly, I admit. But to each his own.

MILLIE

Unless each owns a ghastly brace of Hummers. Make me itch.

Dad, content thus far with letting Roy and Millie ramble, has heard enough to redirect their cryptic discourse—the realtor and the girlfriend looming as likely prospects.

DAD

You wouldn’t happen to know the lassie’s name; the "well-to-do" one?

Roy, cocking his head at an obtuse angle, teacup poised mid-slurp, struggles to recollect. Millie, pursing her lips (pouring Dad a refill) ruminates likewise.

ROY

All I seem to remember is...

MILLIE

Whether the girl had tits. All girls do, of course, but only a few register with his-nibs.

ROY

... she had a bit of a moustache. Not unfeminine, but a very definite shadow; brought to mind that painter; what’s her name? Starts with an F. Francis...?

MILLIE

Frida Kahlo; and you’re thinking of her eyebrows, not her upper lip. Jewish; her name was Jewish, I think. Rosenthal? First name possibly Julie.

ROY

Well that, my dear, is remarkable. Julie Rosenthal; I do believe that’s it. Rachel was concerned—now that you’ve jogged my memory—about Stuyvesant wanting to establish a "kosher household," or some such nonsense.

Dad, anticipating a breakthrough, presses the other point.

DAD

What about the house sale; do you know which realty company handled the transaction?

ROY

The Updikes surely would. Didn’t you think to ask?

MILLIE

The Updikes are in Utica, attending their grandson’s christening.

ROY

You never cease to amaze me. How...?

MILLIE

Lizzie Pratt.

ROY

Ah, enough said. Lizzie Loose-lips Pratt, people call her. Knows everyone on the block. Moved in after the "Fink Estate" changed hands, or she would be the one to fill in your blanks.

MILLIE

Anything and everything that’s known about our neighbors Lizzie Pratt has sleuthed.

ROY

Coldwell Banker is a safe bet.

MILLIE

Tom Hanson.

ROY

Biggest firm in town.

MILLIE

Wouldn’t mention the "Fink Estate," though. Tom’s been around the block and might resent your spinning him such a yarn.

Millie, replenishing her own cup then her husband’s, flashes a modest smile. Dad, his tall-tale exposed, turns his hands palms upward.

DAD

Why’d you two play along? Or have you just been having me on?

ROY

An Irishman and the truth...

MILLIE

Are rarely on speaking terms.

ROY

Be that as it may...

MILLIE

We’d like to know what you’re up to.

ROY

Has Stuyvesant resurfaced?

MILLIE

Or is he still AWOL?

Regretting his chicanery, Dad comes clean—without betraying his client’s identity or motive (neither of which he knows, for sure, himself), securing an invitation to stay for dinner...

 

*

 

...after which he departs amicably, pausing halfway down the driveway in response to Millie’s postscript:

MILLIE

Julie Rosenthal is wrong. Just came to me. Her name was Juliana Blumenthal.

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