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?
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...
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:
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?"
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Peterson’s hospitality—as warm as their home’s decor is quaintly out-of-date.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
neighbors, the Finks. Quiet.
Millie, returning with a tea service, sets it down politely.
Now more than
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)
was it that Rachel Fink passed?
Out or away,
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.
The last time
Stuyvesant paid a visit; and the sixteenth of September.
birthday, was it not?
Yes. She made
her exit from this life a gift to him in the next.
my Sweet, well phrased. A loving pair they were. Two turtle doves.
Who hatched a
Yes; he was a bit incongruous.
scholastically, top of his class. At UB. Spot of trouble after that.
Where was it?
MIT. Run out of
town on a rail, I believe is the expression. Rachel...
Rest her soul.
...was "fit to
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?
It must not
have lasted; she didn’t attend the funeral.
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?
it. Out of the blue he came, back into it he departed.
House went up
for sale. Sold within a month. Market was depressed, so it must have been priced
How else could
the Updikes have afforded to buy?
True. I suppose
you’ve met Helen and Roger? Nice people.
At a distance.
disapproves of them for neglecting to mow their lawn.
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.
admit. But to each his own.
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
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.
All I seem to
girl had tits. All girls do, of course, but only a few register with his-nibs.
... 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...?
and you’re thinking of her eyebrows, not her upper lip. Jewish; her name was
Jewish, I think. Rosenthal? First name possibly Julie.
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.
What about the
house sale; do you know which realty company handled the transaction?
surely would. Didn’t you think to ask?
The Updikes are
in Utica, attending their grandson’s christening.
You never cease
to amaze me. How...?
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.
everything that’s known about our neighbors Lizzie Pratt has sleuthed.
is a safe bet.
Biggest firm in
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.
Why’d you two
play along? Or have you just been having me on?
An Irishman and
Are rarely on
Be that as it
We’d like to
know what you’re up to.
Or is he still
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...
he departs amicably, pausing halfway down the driveway in response to Millie’s
is wrong. Just came to me. Her name was Juliana Blumenthal.