They go out to the swimming pool and sit with their feet in the shallow end. The gurgle of the fountain will drown out their voices in case Irene should appear.
“What is it?” Baker says.
“He had a mistress,” Cash says. “A West Indian woman. I found a picture of the two of them in the master bedroom.”
Baker takes a sip of his beer. It’s good, but not quite good enough to distract him from this crushing news about his father. Is nobody as they seem? Does everyone have nefarious secrets? Okay, obviously something was going on with his father, and it occurred to Baker that the “local woman” in the helicopter was, perhaps, a damning detail. But that was only a maybe. She could have been the pilot’s girlfriend, or a tour guide, or one of Russ’s clients.
“Let me see this picture,” Baker says.
Cash disappears into the house, returning with a framed photograph of Russ and a truly stunning West Indian woman, lying together in a hammock.
There is no misreading the photo.
What strikes Baker is how Russ looks. He’s wearing sunglasses so it’s a bit hard to tell, but the father Baker knows—the goofy midwestern salesman always ready with a quip or pun—has been replaced by a man who looks sophisticated, worldly, and most of all, confident. When Baker and Cash were growing up, Russ had been like nothing so much as a big, eager Saint Bernard who faced each day with the same quest for attention, love, reassurance. He had a list of DIY projects that he liked to tackle on the weekends. He would go in to wake the boys up on a Saturday morning, calling Baker “buddy,” and Cash “pal,” as he did their entire lives, but they wouldn’t stir. Russ would then take a seat at Baker’s desk and wait. When the boys finally woke up, he would jump up with a childlike enthusiasm. Baker understood his father’s eager-to-please, don’t-rock-the-boat attitude to be the result of his childhood. He had moved every eighteen months, and the quest to be found likable and to be included was constant. But Baker won’t lie. Both he and Cash found their father’s obsequiousness off-putting, nearly cringe-worthy. There were a lot of shared eye rolls.
Once Russ got his new job, he had a new luster, certainly; there was suddenly a ton of money. But Russ’s attention was still so intense—possibly even more intense because he was around less frequently—that sometimes Baker and Cash wanted to deflect it. They thought their father was a nice enough guy, but ultimately they preferred the cooler, more reserved presence of their mother.
This man in the photograph with the open-collared tomato-red shirt and the “I’ve-got-the-world-by-the-balls” smile is a stranger.
“Has Mom seen this?” Baker asks.
Cash stands up. “I’m returning it to its hiding place.”
“Get two more beers,” Baker says. “Please.”
Baker grills up six cheeseburgers, and he and Cash fall on the food as they used to when they were teenagers—without thinking, without conversation. Then they sit, with their empty plates before them, staring at the twinkling lights of Tortola in the distance. Baker wonders if he should tell Cash about Anna. Cash is, after all, his brother, though they aren’t close; they don’t confide in each other. Baker has long viewed Cash as a little punk—that was definitely true all through growing up—because Russ and Irene coddled him. And he had spent his adult years freewheeling, which always seemed more like freeloading: sleeping on his buddies’ couches out in Breckenridge, teaching skiing for a pittance because the job came with a free season pass, living off the food that his roommates who worked at restaurants brought home.
Baker and his parents had been unimpressed. But then what did Russ go and do? He bought Cash a business! Handed him the keys to two outdoor supply stores! Baker had really kept his distance then, because the demonstration of blatant favoritism was so egregious. Baker had always been able to speak frankly with his father, and he nearly told Russ that sinking two hundred grand into any business Cash was going to run was as good as sending it to a Nigerian prince.
The only time in recent history that Baker had seen Cash in a more favorable light was when he had taken Anna to Breckenridge to ski, back when they were dating. Anna had been uncharacteristically effusive in her praise of Cash. She loved that he got them access to the back-of-the-mountain trails. She loved that he was dating the hostess at the hottest sushi restaurant in town and then scored them a table in the window at eight o’clock on a Saturday night.
Your brother knows everyone, Anna had said. He’s like the mayor.
Six months later, Baker had grudgingly asked Cash to serve as best man in his wedding.
“I really wish we had some weed,” Baker says now. “I need to relax. My heart has been racing since Mom called with the news. Maybe I should take one of Mom’s Ativans.”
Cash takes an audible breath, as though Baker has startled him out of a waking sleep-state. “Wait,” Cash says. “There’s more to the story about the woman Dad was seeing.”
“Right,” Baker says. He’d dropped the thread of their earlier conversation. The woman in the photograph.
“I asked Paulette about her,” Cash says. “The woman’s name was Rosie Small. There’s a memorial service being held tomorrow at the Episcopal church, followed by a reception at a place called Chester’s Getaway.”
Baker nods. Todd Croft arranged for Russ’s body to be cremated.
As for a funeral service… Irene wants to wait until they figure out what’s going on before they even tell anyone that Russ is dead. They can’t very well tell everyone they know that Russ was killed in a helicopter crash in the Virgin Islands when they have no answers to the inevitable follow-up questions. Baker has scoured the internet—there has been no mention anywhere of a helicopter crash in the Virgin Islands.
Baker notices Cash looking at him expectantly. “What?”
“We have to go tomorrow,” Cash says. “To either the service or the reception.”
“Why?” Baker says.
“To find out who this woman was,” Cash says.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Baker says. “What would that accomplish?”
“There are so many questions,” Cash says. “How did Dad meet her, how long have they been together…”
“Who cares?” Baker says. “Think about it: What is it going to benefit you or me to know the answers? She was a woman Dad was screwing down here. How will it help to know any more?” Baker leans in and lowers his voice. “How will it help Mom? The answer is, it won’t. We need to get Dad’s ashes and leave. Put this house on the market, if it’s even ours to sell.”
“Paulette said it was ours,” Cash says. “I’ll ask her to produce the deed. Mom will have to call her attorney and have him check Dad’s will. If Dad owns this house outright and the will leaves everything to Mom and the two of us, then it would be ours to sell.”
“You sound like Jackass P. Esquire,” Baker says.
“We need to find Todd Croft. See what he can tell us about Dad’s business. It wasn’t just a ‘boutique investment firm,’ Baker.”
No, Baker thinks. This became evident the second they pulled into the driveway of this house. This is a twelve- or fifteen-million-dollar property. If Russ did own it outright, then he was into something far bigger than he claimed to be. Shell companies, offshore accounts, hiding money, cleaning it, the things you see in movies. He had access to a helicopter.
“I really think we should leave things be,” Baker says.
“I don’t,” Cash says. “I’m going to either the service or the reception tomorrow and you’re coming with me. I’ll let you pick which one.”
“Reception,” Baker says. “Obviously. Because there will be alcohol.”
“People will be more likely to tell us things,” Cash says.
Things we don’t want to know, Baker thinks.
At one o’clock the next afternoon, they find themselves in one of the two gunmetal-gray Jeep Saharas that belong to their father, driving to a place called Chester’s Getaway off the Centerline Road.
They told their mother they were going on a top secret investigative mission.
“We can’t tell you anything else,” Baker said.
“I don’t want to know anything else,” Irene said. “Do what you have to do. I have my own list.”
Baker thought his mother looked marginally better. She had finally slept, for a full twelve hours, and then she’d eaten a few chunks of fresh pineapple and a bite of toast.
“What’s on your list?” Baker asked.
Irene blinked. “I’m going to call Ed Sorley, our attorney, and ask him to fax me a copy of your father’s will. I’m going to call Todd Croft and I’m going to call Paulette. I was in no shape yesterday to ask her any questions, but today I want to appeal to her, woman to woman.”
Baker kissed his mother on the forehead. She was a strong woman. She should be falling apart, but instead she had made a list.
“Call if you need us,” Baker said.
There are cars lined up for hundreds of yards before they reach the entrance to Chester’s and so they have to turn around, double back, and park at the end of the line. They arrive at Chester’s at the same time that a bus lets off a load of people—a mix of young and old, white and West Indian, most of them somberly dressed.