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The Periphral Son : An Excerpt

Cover of The Periph

The Peripheral Son
A Dick Hardesty Mystery
by Dorien Grey

Chapter 1

Those of us born to and raised by loving parents find it difficult to comprehend that not everyone is so blessed; that there are those parents who, for whatever reason, treat their children as unwelcome strangers. The process often leaves the child with emotional scars which can never completely heal. I could never imagine what it must be like to be a peripheral son, until….

"Did you get any sleep?" I asked Jonathan as I watched Joshua slosh milk into his bowl of cereal, filling it to the brim.

"A little. I guess I still haven't quite come down yet."

He was referring to the Gay Men's Chorus concert the day before, in which he had his first solo. The concert had consisted entirely of songs from Disney movies, from "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah" to "When You Wish Upon a Star"—and, of course, "Some Day My Prince Will Come," which the entire chorus signed as it sang. Jonathan had the solo on "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes." Needless to say, he was terrific.

Someone said that the reason time passes more and more quickly as we get older is because each day is an incrementally smaller percentage of our total life. If that's true, at the rate time appeared to be zipping by, my one-hundred-tenth birthday was just around the corner.

We had just enrolled Joshua in first grade at our local elementary school for the upcoming school year, and were trying to deal with the logistics involved in this new chapter of our lives. Though Joshua was counting the days until his sixth birthday, my mind simply could not accept the fact that he'd been with us for nearly two years following the death of his parents, Jonathan's brother and sister-in-law.  We had entrusted his weekday care to Estelle and Bonnie Bronson, two sisters who ran the Happy Day Daycare Center from their home, almost from the time he came to us. They had been very good about looking after him until one of us got there to pick him up. But public schools do not afford such service, and we had to find an alternate plan.

Luckily, Jonathan had a terrific boss at the nursery at which he worked. He was slowly building his own landscaping business, and the flexibility in working hours his boss allowed him enabled him to pretty much set his own hours. Being a private investigator, I was of course in the same position. But there would be times, we both knew, when each or sometimes both of us would be involved in something which would prevent us from picking Joshua up from school on time.

I was kept fairly busy with a wide variety of cases, none of which ever made the evening news, but which brought in enough money to pay the bills and set a little aside for the proverbial "rainy day"—which, anyone who has a young kid knows, is rather like living in the Amazon rain forest.

All our friends were doing well; Tim and Phil, Bob and Mario, Jared and Jake, and the newest additions to our little group, Nick and Cory. They'd all been at the concert—Cory was the chorus's sign interpreter—and we managed to get together from time.
So while our lives were not exactly ruled by adrenaline rushes, we were pretty happy with the way things were going.

* * *

The Tuesday morning following the concert I found the main entrance to the parking lot across from my building blocked and had to use the alley entrance. The building to north of the lot had been razed some time before, and construction crews had shown up to start a new building. They'd apparently blocked the lot's entrance to avoid totally blocking the street while truckloads of equipment and materials were unloaded. I looked forward with less than enthusiasm to several months of jackhammers and rivet guns and general confusion and inconvenience.

I'd just gotten to the office and was in the process of making a pot of coffee when the phone rang.

"Hardesty Investigations."

"Is this Mr. Hardesty?" a woman's voice asked.

A safe guess, lady, I thought.

"Yes. What can I do for you?"

"My name is Eileen Koseva, and I need your help in finding my brother-in-law." Her concern was clear in her voice.

The name rang a bell, but I couldn't immediately place it.

"I'll be glad to do what I can," I said. "When would you like to get together to talk about it?"

"Could we do it today? This morning? I can come to your office."

"Let me check my calendar."

I know, I know; I always say that, even when I know full well, as I did then, that I didn't have anything on it. "How about ten thirty?" I gave her my address.

"Thank you! I'll see you then!"

As we hung up, I tried to get a handle on the name Koseva, which managed to dance around just out of my mind's reach. Koseva. Koseva…. The Holcomb Arena! Frank Koseva owned the Holcomb Sports Arena and a number of gyms around the city. A former boxer-turned-trainer and fight promoter with, reportedly, several friends in organized crime, though he had never been in trouble himself.

I wondered if Elena Koseva was related to him. Well, I'd just have to wait until ten thirty to find out.

I filled the interim with writing a report to accompany my bill to a recent client.

At ten-twenty my door opened to admit a well-groomed, well-dressed woman in her late twenties/early thirties. I always find it difficult to accurately describe people physically, and especially women. If she were a man, she might be described as being "hefty;" not fat…just enough larger and taller than average to be noteworthy.

I stood up for an introduction and handshake and invited her to sit on the chair I'd moved to the front of my desk in anticipation of her arrival. When she refused my offer of coffee, I waited until she was seated before resuming my own seat.

"May I ask how you found me?"

"When I told one of my close friends of my concern about Victor, she mentioned your name. She has a gay brother and said you had once helped him, and she gave me your name. Can you help me?"

"I'll certainly try," I said. "Let's start by your telling me about your brother-in-law."

"Victor. He's been missing for a week."

"Does his work know where he is?"

She shook her head. "He doesn't have a regular job. He's a freelance writer."

"How about his friends? Have you been in touch with them?"

"Victor has always been something of a loner, and for a professional writer, he isn't very communicative on a personal level. I've only met one of his friends—a young man named Constantine…Con, as Victor called him—who joined us for lunch one day. I've heard him mention one or two others from time to time, but only by their first names, and I can't recall them offhand."

"Have contacted the police?"

She shook her head. "My husband won't let me."

"I'm sorry? Your husband won't 'let' you?"

"Sorry…a poor choice of words. Victor and he don't get along, and my husband tends to be very impatient with him. He's sure Victor has just gone off somewhere without feeling the need to let anyone know, and that he'll come back when he's ready, and that there's no reason to bring the police into it."

"Does he just go 'off somewhere' often? Is there anyone he might have told where he was going? "

"I'm afraid not; no one I know of at any rate. We talk frequently on the phone, and we get together for lunch now and again, but I haven't actually seen him in well over a month now. I've tried calling him several times when my husband is at work or away, but he's never returned my calls. Yesterday I went by his apartment just as the mailman was putting mail in his box, and it was full! I must have rung the bell a dozen times. I went around to where he parks his car, behind his apartment, and it is there."

"Did you tell your husband?"

"No. He would have been very upset with me. He doesn't even know I'm in touch with Victor at all."

"Well, I might suggest that you seriously consider contacting the police regardless of what your husband says."

She shook her head. "That's why I called you. I want to see if you might be able to find him first."

"I'll do my best, but it really would be a great help if I knew more about his life and anyone with whom he might be close."

"I do wish I could help you, but as I said, Victor just never volunteers anything on his personal life.  I know that sounds strange, but that's Victor."

I thought it sounded strange, too, but everyone has his own story.

"You said he and your husband weren't close. Any particular reason?"

She sighed. "It's a long story, I'm afraid."

I smiled. "Well, if I'm to help you, I really need to know as much about Victor as I can."

She was silent for a long moment, and I could almost see her formulating a Reader's Digest version for me.

"Victor's mother died within a week of his birth, and—irrational as it sounds—his father never forgave him for 'killing' his wife. Victor was turned over to his already-elderly maternal grandparents in Arkansas the day after the funeral. The grandfather died when Victor was seven, and his grandmother raised him by herself until she died when Victor was fourteen. He said the only relative who cared about him was a cousin several years older than he, and who Victor adored. The cousin subsequently was killed in a car crash.

"When he returned here, he was all but a complete stranger to my husband, and my father-in-law largely ignored him as he had done all Victor's life. His paternal grandparents share my father-in-law's blaming of Victor for their daughter's death and, it breaks my heart to say, they would shamelessly lavish attention on Ben while treating poor Victor as though he didn't exist. Can you imagine how terrible that must have been for a young boy?"

Intellectually I suppose I could, but emotionally, I could not.

"So how did you become friends with Victor?"

"We met in high school. Ben, my husband, was two years ahead of Victor and I, and he was what they call a 'jock'; active in all the school sports. Victor was in the school orchestra and in several plays…" she paused and gave me a sad smile. "I know; how stereotypical can you get? Sensitive young man, jock for an older brother; but isn't that how stereotypes become stereotypes: because they are common truths? Anyway, I always felt so sorry that while my father-in-law was always there to cheer Ben on at every game, he never came to a single event Victor participated in.

"And then one day during spring break of his senior year of college, one of Victor's obviously gay friends showed up at his house, unannounced, and Victor's father answered the door. He all but slammed it in the poor boy's face, and when there was a huge confrontation when Victor got home from wherever he'd been. When Victor admitted he was gay, his father threw him out of the house and has barely spoken a word to him since. He forbade Ben from having any contact with him."

"And how did your husband react to that?"

"You have to understand that Ben not only works for his father, but is the apple of his father's eye, and though he's never said it, I think that Ben has always been afraid that his father might turn on him as he did on Victor. And as a result, I fear Ben has been as unfair to Victor as his father has been.

"And now Ben works for his father, so any chance of there being some sort of reconciliation between Victor and Ben is all but impossible."
I was curious how, from even that sketchy account of the family dynamics, she ever ended up marrying her husband. But I didn't think this was the time to ask.

It was a variation on a story I have unfortunately heard more than once before, and once again I felt a combination of rage and sadness. And I didn't have too high an opinion of Ben Koseva either, for letting his father dictate his relationship with his brother.

"So you have no idea where Victor might have gone? He said nothing at all to you about planning a trip?"

A sad shake of her head. "Not a word. I'm afraid something terrible has happened to him."

"What makes you say that?"

"Just a feeling. Plus his not having taken his car, his mail, his not answering his phone. I can see his going off for a few days or so, but….

Reaching for a pen and notepad, I said, "Okay, so tell me anything you can think of that might help me. Let's start with his address."

Except for Victor Koseva's address, phone number, and that one first name, she really had very little information. She did say that they always had lunch at the Calypso, a discretely gay restaurant with a mixed clientele, and that he was a stringer for one of the local papers and wrote freelance articles for a number of publications, though she couldn't recall any specific names.

She then gave me her own address and phone number, asking that I not call unless it was absolutely necessary. "My husband keeps odd hours," she said, and I got the message. "But I'll try to call you every day."

The more she talked of her husband, the more curious I became about just how dysfunctional the entire Koseva family might be.

I printed up only one copy of my standard contract, for my file—she said she didn't need one but I assumed that was because she didn't want to risk her husband coming across it—and went over it carefully with her before she signed it. She then wrote me a check for a retainer. Anticipating my unasked question, as she tore the check out of the book she said, "My grandparents left me an annuity. I seldom use it, and my husband never pries."

As she got up to leave, I said, "One last thing; do you happen to have a photo of Victor?"

She looked at me with an expression of sadness. "Not a one."

"Can you give me a physical description, then?"

After only a brief pause, she said, "He's thirty-four, about five-nine, dark hair, very dark-blue eyes. Oh, and he has a rather noticeable scar on his forehead just below his hair line."

"But no photos from family events? Holidays? Your wedding?"

Shaking her head sadly, she said, "No," and then brightened slightly. "But I'll see if I still might have our high school yearbook. I know he's in there. It's an old picture, but if you need it…"

"Please."

"I'll call you," she said, and with a small smile, she left.

* * *

Though Tuesday was normally Jonathan's night for chorus practice, director Roger Rothenberger always gave them a week's break following a concert, and it was nice to have him home. Cory called shortly after dinner, and Jonathan answered. I saw his face light up and heard him say, "How could they tell?"

I head him mentioning that we had been talking about the problem of picking Joshua up after school, and I heard him say, "Ellis Elementary" and after a few moments, "Really? That would be wonderful! Yes, please do call them. Thank you!" A minute or two later, he turned the phone over to me to say hello.

"Well, you certainly made Jonathan happy," I observed.

Cory laughed. "I was telling him that several of our deaf friends who had been at the concert Sunday thought he had done a wonderful job on his solo—they can tell a lot without actually hearing. They said they knew from the way he carried himself and by the expression on his face that he loves singing. Of course it didn't hurt that they thought he was really cute.

"And I also told him I might have a solution for your after-school problems with Joshua. He can tell you about it."

"I really appreciate it, Cory. Be sure to give Nick our best."

Hanging up, I turned to Jonathan. "So what's Cory's 'solution'?"

"He and Nick know an older deaf straight couple who live right across the street from Emerson. They're retired, and their son and his family just moved out of state. They really miss the grandkids, so Cory says he thinks they might be happy to look after Joshua after school until we can get there. I told him to go ahead and bring it up to them. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not! That would be terrific! And Joshua could learn some more sign."

Nick and Cory had, in fact, gotten him a children's book called Talking With My Hands, showing the hand position for all the letters of the alphabet. He loved it.

* * *

Rather than go directly in to work Wednesday, I drove over to the address Elena Koseva had given me for her brother-in-law, Victor. It was a small, cookie-cutter style four-flat in a working-class neighborhood that emanated an aura of resignation as it teetered on the brink of decay. Finding a parking place wasn't a problem and as I approached the front entrance, an older woman was coming out. She was carrying an umbrella, though there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Maybe she knew something I didn't.

"Excuse me," I said. "Do you know if Victor Koseva is home?"

She gave me a strange look I couldn't quite figure out. "I haven't seen him in weeks," she said, without stopping.

"Could you tell me where I could find the building superintendent?"

"Owner lives on the first floor," she said, passing me without looking at me again or even slowing down.

While there was a tiny entry cubicle with mail boxes and doorbells, the inner door was ajar, and I went in to a rather claustrophobic inner hall. A stairway to the upper floors to my left, a solid wall four feet to my right, and a doorway directly in line with the inner and outer doors was, I took a guess, probably the entrance to the owner's apartment. I could hear a TV somewhere inside. I knocked.

A moment later, a woman wearing a flannel housecoat, no makeup, and a head full of hair curlers opened the door. A TV set against the far wall was tuned to a soap opera.

"Yes?"

"Excuse me, but I'm looking for Victor Koseva," I began.

"Third floor."

"Do you know if he's home?"

"No idea. I haven't seen him."

"Thank you."

I turned and went up the stairs. Reaching the third floor, I knocked on the door, waited thirty seconds, then knocked again. And again. Nothing.

Going back downstairs, I knocked again on the owner's door. She looked less than happy when she opened the door, turning her head to try to keep her eye on the TV.

"I'm sorry to bother you," I said, "but I've been trying to reach Victor by phone all week, and I'm really worried that something might have happened to him. Do you have a key to his apartment?"

"And who are you?"

"I'm a friend of Victor's. We were supposed to get together last night and he didn't show up."

"Well, I can't give you the key."

"I understand. But can you come upstairs and open his door just to see if he's all right? I'd hate to call the police and have them bother you."
She looked at me closely for a moment, then turned back briefly toward the TV, which had apparently gone to commercials. She sighed. "Well, I don't want the police coming by. I don't want the neighbors to get the wrong idea. Just a minute."

Stepping back into the apartment, she closed the door, only to open it again within seconds, keys in hand, and led the way to the stairs.

Reaching the third floor, she knocked on the door, waited, then knocked again, more loudly. When there was no response, she fingered the keys, selected one, and opened the door. The apartment was extremely neat and totally nondescript. On a small stand beside the door was a philodendron in need of water, with three or four pieces of unopened mail beside it. On a low table by the window were three obviously thirsty African violets. I noted two nearly empty coffee cups on coasters on a large, round coffee table with several neatly-arranged books and magazines. I glanced quickly at the magazines' titles, which were upside down from my vantage point. I recognized  a couple of in-flight magazines—Continental and American, and several what I appeared to be trade publications. I wanted to pick them up and go through them, but with the landlady hovering there like Banquo's ghost I didn't want to risk it. Two large bookcases were filled to overflowing, with more books stacked on the top. I would have liked to have the time to look at them, too, to get an idea of his taste.

"Can I check the bedroom?" I asked.

"Go ahead," she said, pointing toward a short hall in the center of the back wall. I moved toward it, noting all the doors were open; the bathroom to the right, the kitchen to the left and flanking doors at the end of the hall showed two bedrooms, both empty, but the bed in the one on the left was unmade and there was a pair of shorts on the floor, next to a pair of bedroom slippers. There were several books stacked on the nightstand and the top of the dresser. The window was cracked open, and looked out onto a narrow iron-stair type fire escape leading to a small yard sandwiched between the building and the garage. A wood, gated fence partially obscured a car parked on what appeared to be a concrete slab next to the garage.
The second bedroom was apparently used as an office. Almost empty, with just a small three-drawer desk with a typewriter, a single chair, and a two-drawer file cabinet I didn't have time to go through. There were no pictures in either bedroom.

While I noticed a phone, I didn't see an answering machine. That was odd. I'd have thought an answering machine would be a necessity for a free-lance writer. And his sister-in-law had specifically said he hadn't returned her calls. The only way he'd know there were any calls would be if he had an answering machine.

It also occurred to me later that I'd seen almost nothing in the entire apartment that said "this is me."  There were no personal photos. None. Not on his dresser or nightstand or anywhere in the apartment. But other than that, there was nothing out of the ordinary…except possibly the two cups on coffee table. Returning to the living room, I made a point to smile at the woman who stood exactly as I'd left her, arms crossed, watching me.

"Thanks so much, Mrs.…"

"Shapiro," she said, not returning the smile and turning toward the door.

"Do you happen to know any of Victor's friends?" I asked as we left the apartment and she locked the door behind us.

"I thought you said you were his friend."

"I am, but we haven't known each other all that long, and I don't know very many of his other friends. I thought maybe…"

"We don't pry," she said, leading the way down the stairs.

When we reached the ground floor, she headed straight for her apartment, probably anxious to get back to her soap opera.

"Again, thanks for your time, Mrs. Shapiro."

She turned just far enough to give me a brief nod, but said nothing and disappeared into her apartment as I left the building.

Out of curiosity, I walked to the corner, then around to the alley and to the rear of Victor's building. There was the two-car garage I'd seen from his bedroom window with a concrete pad beside it, on which was parked an older-model but well-kept Chevy Camero. I couldn't see into the garage, but assumed from the layer of dust over the Camero that it may have been Victor's. Going to the passenger's side, I looked in the window and, glancing around to see if anyone might be watching, tried the door. It was unlocked, and I opened it, stepping quickly into the car. A gum wrapper lay on the floor just under the front of the passenger's seat and a sun-faded parking garage stub was on the dashboard, but that was it. I opened the glove box and found the car's registration: Victor Koseva. A city map, the Owner's Manual, a blank small pad of paper and a pen. That was it. I closed the glove box, popped the trunk, and got out of the car. A cursory glance showed that other than the spare tire, a jack, and a tire iron, the trunk was empty.

As I was closing the trunk, I heard a voice saying, "Excuse me; what are you doing?"

Looking around, I saw no one until I glanced up at the building next door. An elderly gentleman in a blue bathrobe was leaning out the window.

"Nothing. Just trying to find out who the car belongs to. I've been looking for this exact make and model."

The gentleman did not seem either convinced or impressed.

"Third floor, right in front of you. But I haven't seen him in a week or two."

"Well, thanks. I'll check it out."

I headed back to my car before he could say anything else.

* * *

On the way to the office, I made another mental run-through of Victor Koseva's apartment. I still thought it was odd that there was no personal touches in the entire apartment. I tried to remember the titles of the magazines I'd assumed to be trade publications I'd seen on the coffee table; they did that annoying little just-out-of-my-mind's-reach dance that always drives me crazy. Finally I caught one: ACWU Voice. I tried to remember the photo on the cover. A construction crane. ACWU: Amalgamated Construction Workers Union. Interesting. The ACWU was a statewide union, headquartered here, which had broken away from the national Construction Workers of America in the nineteen-fifties. It had been under scrutiny by several federal agencies for years, and rumors of corruption, nepotism, and graft were rampant.

Definitely worth checking out.

The absence of an answering machine bothered me. If there had been one, I might have convinced Mrs. Shapiro to let me check it for incoming messages. But as it was, I had no idea of who else might have been concerned about his being missing…or even aware that he was.

So at the moment, Victor Koseva was something of a cipher. His sister-in-law apparently knew very little about his personal life or his friends. I only had one name, Constantine/Con, to go on, and that was only a first name. Everything else was just a series of blanks. Well, I guess that's what private investigators are supposed to do…fill in the blanks.

Elena had given me a physical description of her brother-in-law, but an actual photo would be a lot better. I was hoping it wouldn't take her too long to find Victor's high school yearbook. But even if she did find it, the photo would be more than a decade old, and people can change a lot in that time. And then I remembered Bil Dunham—yes, only one "l"—my contact at the DMV. He just might be able to get me a copy of Victor's driver's license photo.

As soon as I returned to the office, I looked up the number for the DMV, which I could never remember, and asked for his extension, which for some reason I could.

"Bil Dunham," the familiar voice said.

Though I hadn't asked him a favor in quite a while, we were getting to the point where the favor he owed me—access to DMV files in exchange for having helped him out of a tight spot some time before—was almost repaid. But I hoped he wouldn't notice.

After the usual exchange of greetings, I got to the point. "Bil, I'm working on a case where I have no real idea of what the guy I'm looking for looks like. I know he has a driver's license and wondered if  there is any way I can get a copy of it…or at least the photo?"

"I might be able to get the photo part for you. Who are you looking for?"

I gave him Victor Koseva's name and address.

"I'll see what I can do during my lunch hour. Why don't you give me a call around one or one-thirty?"

"Will do. And thanks again. I owe you."

Since it was already pretty close to lunch time, I decided on a whim to give Tim a call at work. Elena Koseva had said she'd checked with the police and the hospitals, but she probably hadn't thought to call the morgue. While I had no reason to suspect that Victor Koseva might be dead, I figured it wouldn't hurt to check with Tim, as Assistant Medical Examiner, to see if any unidentified bodies might have come in in the past week. I dialed the Coroner's Office and asked for Tim's extension, hoping I'd catch him before he went to lunch.

"Tim Jackson."

"Hi, Tim. I hate to bother you at work, but I'm looking for a white male, mid-thirties, five-eleven, dark hair, dark blue eyes…"

"What? Jonathan not giving you enough?"

"You're a very sick man, Jackson," I said, laughing in spite of myself. "But no, this is for a case I'm working on…. I was wondering if you might have had any unidentified bodies come in in the past week that might fit the description. Oh, and he has a scar on his forehead just below the hair line."

"Sorry. A couple of John Doe's, but nobody who matches that description. And we've been up to our eyebrows in bodies! I don't remember when we've had this many since I've been working here."

"Sorry about that, Tim. The guy I'm looking for's name is Victor Koseva, and I don't have any real reason to think he's dead, but figured it wouldn't hurt to check. If you could keep an eye out…"

"Sure. We were planning to call Jonathan tonight to tell him again how much we enjoyed the concert yesterday, so I'll probably talk with you later."

"Okay, sounds good. Give Phil my love."

"Consider it done."

* * *

I left the office shortly after talking with Tim and went downstairs to the diner in the lobby—actually, it's main entrance was on the street, but always used the side door into the lobby—for a BLT and, at Jonathan's insistence after he caught a look at the bathroom scale while I was weighing myself that morning, a scoop of cottage cheese. I forewent my chocolate shake in favor of two cartons of milk. I'd stopped plucking the occasional gray hair, but the thought of getting paunchy before my time really bothered me.

I'd just returned to the office when I had a call from Elena Koseva saying she had not yet found the high school yearbook with Victor's photo, but would keep looking. "It's probably in a box in the attic," she said. "I'll get up there this afternoon."

"You may not have to," I said. "I think I can get a copy of his driver's license photo. They always look like police mug shots, but at least it will be a little more up to date."

"Let me call you," she said. "Tomorrow morning."  

"That'll be fine. And have you thought of anything, or anyone, else that might be of help in tracking  him down? Do you happen to know the names of any of the magazines he wrote for?"

"I'm embarrassed to say I don't, really. Victor never mentioned his work." There was a slight pause, then, "I don't think I'd really realized until now how very little I know about Victor's life."

"Would you know if he has an answering machine?"

"Of course. Though it must be full, because the last few times I've called it hasn't even picked up."

Now that was an interesting bit of information, I thought.

"Well, thank you, Mrs. Koseva. And please do keep trying to think of something, however small, that might give me a lead."

"Of course I will."

We hung up and I sat at my desk, eating my lunch and wondering what had become of his answering machine and mentally planning out a strategy for proceeding with my search for the elusive Victor Koseva.  I wanted to call the ACWU, but decided I wanted to do a little more thinking about it before making the call.

If Bil was able to get me the photo, a trip to the DMV would be necessary, and I could make a stop at the library near the DMV to check out periodicals Victor may have written for. It was possible, too, that since he was a freelance writer and gay, he might well have been a stringer for the Rainbow Flag, the city's major gay newspaper, as well. Kyle Burgess, the Rainbow Flag's editor and I had a casual…uh, mainly "horizontal get togethers"…shortly before Jonathan entered my life. And while I, and I assume Kyle, had enjoyed them, they had never led to a real friendship. I made a mental note to give him a call.

But first, seeing that it was already getting two o'clock, I called Bil.

"Got it," he said. "I'll leave it at the front desk."

"Thanks, Bil. I do appreciate it."

Before I left the office for the DMV, I looked up the Rainbow Flag's number and called, asking to speak to the managing editor. There was a moment's pause, then, "This is Kyle."

"Kyle, hi. This is a voice from your past, Dick Hardesty."

"Dick! Good to hear your voice. I'm sorry we sort of lost touch, but I met someone shortly after the last time I saw you, and…"

"No problem; same here, as a matter of fact."

"Hey, good for you! So what can I do for you?"

"I was wondering if you know a writer named Victor Koseva."

"Yeah, we use stuff from him from time to time. Why do you ask?"

"I'm trying to find him, and he seems to have disappeared. Do you have any idea as to where he might be?"

A pause, then. "No, I'm afraid not. We bought a piece from him about three weeks ago, but nothing since. Haven't heard from him since, either, now that I think of it."

"Do you know anything about him? His friends? His personal life?"

Kyle shook his head. "Afraid not. Victor's kind of an odd bird. Not what I'd call a party-boy personality by a long shot. He's always got this underlying air of…I'm not quite sure how to describe it…arrogance? He's always working on some big secret project or other. He's convinced a Pulitzer is just around the corner. He's a competent writer, I'll give him that. But a Pulitzer? Last I heard he was working on something—some sort of expose, I gather—he was going to pitch to 'the big boys,' whoever in hell they're supposed to be. Obviously, we weren't big enough for him. I asked him what it was about, but he wouldn't say."

"Well, I appreciate the information, Kyle. If you can think of anything else, I'd appreciate your giving me a call. Do you still have my number, by any chance?"

"I'm sure I do. And you're in the book, I assume."

"Right. So take care, and keep up the good work with the Flag. maybe we'll run into one another one of these days."

"That'd be nice. Later."

The minute the receiver touched the cradle, I knew I should have asked Kyle if he might know of some of the other publications for which Victor wrote. Damn! I hate it when that happens! Well, I wasn't about to call him back. A trip to the library was now definitely on my list of things to do. I'd call the other papers later.

Feeling mildly frustrated, I got out of my chair and left the office, heading for the DMV.

* * *

At least at the DMV you can always find a place to park. However, I had to stand in line for about five minutes to even reach the front desk, which reminded me of the judge's bench in a courtroom, elevated slightly above the floor. Just before I reached the desk, they must have had a shift change, for the dour-looking mono-syllabic sixty-something man sitting behind the counter simply got up and left without a word, to be replaced about thirty seconds later by a pleasant-looking black woman, who was all smiles and helpfulness. I suspected she might be new to the job.

I asked if an envelope had been left for me, and after a quick look, she found it, though I couldn't see it from where I was standing.

"May I see some ID?" she asked, smiling.

I took out my billfold and extracted my driver's license, which I handed to her. After glancing at it, she picked up the envelope and handed both it to me with my license.

"You have a nice day," she said, with another smile. "Next in line, please."

As I walked to my car, I opened the envelope and extracted the photo. Fortunately, it was a separate photo and not a duplicate of his entire driver's license. Victor Koseva was pretty much as his sister-in-law had described him; average looking, and I would have pegged him as being a little older than thirty-four. I couldn't judge his height, but he did have dark hair and dark-blue eyes. A closer examination also showed what appeared to be a scar on his left forehead just below his hair line.

Well, at least I now had more to work with than I'd had before. Not much, but I'd take it.

* * *

Since the nearest branch library was only two blocks away, I left my car in the DMV lot and walked rather than going through the probable frustration of trying to find a parking place, hoping my car wouldn't be towed in the interim.

I guess I hadn't realized just how many locally-published periodicals there were, and got to thinking that for every generally-marketed publication out there there are a dozen company house organs, trade publications, and specialty/niche magazines. And the library didn't carry airline in-flight magazines or  organizational publications like the ACWU Voice. But I spent nearly two hours looking through back issues of the regional and local magazines they did carry before I came across a piece in a local historical magazine with Victor Koseva's byline, about the restoration of one of the city's landmark mansions. I copied the pertinent information—address, telephone number, editor's name—from the masthead. I wasn't quite sure exactly what I thought I might find out, but every possible lead is the first potential domino in the row.

By the time I'd left the library, had a very late lunch, returned to the office, and transcribed my notes, I was ready to call it a day.

* * *

Joshua was helping me with the dishes when Cory called. Jonathan answered and I caught only bits and pieces of the conversation—Jonathan's. I heard him say, "Let me check," and he put the phone down to come into the kitchen.

"Cory talked to that retired couple near Emerson and they said they'd be happy to do it. Cory wants to know if we'd like to go over there Sunday after church to meet them. Is that okay?"

"Sure," I said, immediately trying to figure out the logistics. As a rock-bound Agnostic, I never went to church and felt oddly hypocritical every time I had to be in one. But Jonathan took Joshua…well, religiously…to the M.C.C.—the Metropolitan Community Church, which served the gay community—every Sunday while I stayed home and read the paper and puttered. But on occasions when we were going somewhere right after church, rather than having to juggle two cars, I'd drive them there, then turn around and go back to pick them up. Depending on the time Cory set up the meeting, I figured that should work.

Jonathan had no sooner hung up from Cory when Tim and Phil called. I couldn't hear their side of the conversation, but Jonathan was obviously pleased. At last he turned the phone over to me.

"Tim," he said.

"Hi, Dick. Just wanted to let you know I went back over all our John Does for the past month—I don't always see every one that comes in—and nobody fit your description. I'd say 'sorry,' but at least this means the guy is probably still alive."

* * *

Thursday morning, after my coffee/crossword puzzle ritual, I began calling the local newspapers to see if Victor Koseva might have been a stringer for them. The assignments editor at the Star-Tribune, the city's main paper, had no knowledge of him, but the guy I spoke to at the Journal-Sentinal, which tended to give yellow journalism a bad name, said that Victor was a regular contributor and had sold a piece to them three weeks before. Not surprisingly, he knew nothing at all about Victor's personal life.

I next called Heritage, the historical magazine I'd found with Victor's article. The editor verified that Victor was a fairly regular contributor, but that most of their contacts had been by phone or mail, and that they'd only met in person once, when Victor brought in revisions to an article. Not surprisingly,  he knew nothing at all about Victor's private life.

Batting 100, Hardesty.

I'd just hung up when Elena Koseva called, saying she'd found the yearbook and would bring it by within the hour.

Though having already gotten Victor's DMV photo I didn't really need the yearbook, I thought it might give me a chance to see if she had come upwith any more information.

By the time I'd cleared off my desk…I don't know how it manages to get so cluttered in so short a time…emptied the wastebasket, and had another cup of coffee, nearly an hour had passed, and I looked up to see the silhouette of a woman on the opaque glass as my office door opened to admit Elena Koseva, carrying a large manila envelope.

I got up to greet her and offer her a chair as she handed me the envelope. As she sat, I returned to my own chair and placed the envelope on the corner of the desk, intending to look at it later.

"I appreciate your bringing this in," I said, indicating the envelope with a nod in its direction. "I'll get it back to you."

She smiled. "No hurry. It's been in the attic for years."

"Do you know if Victor had any close friends at school? Someone he might have kept in contact with?"

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Victor kept, even then, very much to himself. Most of our class thought he was pretty arrogant and aloof, but I knew that was just a wall he built around himself."

"I'm curious. You mentioned during our first meeting that your husband worked for his father and kept 'odd hours.' May I ask what he does?"

"Whatever his father wants him to do. He considers himself primarily  a talent scout for new fighters. I assume you know my father-in-law is a boxing promoter as well as running the Holcomb Arena and his various gyms. Ben travels around the country checking out up-and-coming young boxers my father-in-law might want to sign on to the stable of fighters he has under contract." She gave another small smile. "I've always found the word 'stable' particularly appropriate when it comes to my father-in-law, since that's exactly how he considers them."

I found it interesting that she had never once referred to Frank Koseva by name.

"Have you thought of anything else that might be a clue as to where Victor might have gone, or why?"

She shook her head. "I'm sorry, no. I honestly know very little about Victor's private life, or his interests outside of books, TV, and movies."

"What did you talk about when you got together for lunch?"

"That's about it: books and movies and TV. We're both avid readers, and enjoy the same TV shows. He's absolutely addicted to Cagney & Lacey, and Cheers, and I don't think he's missed a single Miami Vice or St. Elsewhere. But now that I think of it, that pretty much sums up the bulk of our conversations."

"You never talk about family things?"

She shook her head. "Never. I can't remember the last time Victor even mentioned his father…or Ben, for that matter. And I am always careful not to bring them up."

"Well, unless I can learn more about Victor from other sources, I'm afraid I won't have any choice but to talk to them both."

Her expression reflected her concern. "Oh, I wish you wouldn't do that! If either of them found out I'd hired you….Ben would be furious with me, and my father-in-law would blame Ben and, well, I…"

"Don't worry. I won't mention your name, and if they ask if it was you, I'll deny it. I'll simply say one of Victor's friends hired me. I assume they don't know enough about Victor's life to challenge it."

We sat silently for a moment before I said, "Have you had a chance to remember anything Victor might have said about the magazines he wrote or?"

"No, and I've tried. I know he wrote for several, but which ones…."

"That's all right. I can try to track them down." While I was sure the two in-flight magazines were based out of town and might not have much information, the ACWU had its offices here in town. As for whomever else he might have written for, I could keep digging in the library. I sincerely wished there were a way to find this kind of information without having to run to the library every time I wanted to know something.
Though I sensed our conversation was pretty much over, she made no move to leave, but sat there as if lost in her own thoughts. I didn't interrupt.

After about thirty seconds of silence she said, "I'm not a very good sister-in-law, I'm afraid, and not a very good friend to Victor."

"What do you mean?" I asked, puzzled.

"I mean just from our conversation right now. Books and TV and movies? And I can only remember the name of one of his friends? We've known each other for years, and this is all I can think of to say about him? All I really know about him?" She shook her head.

"Well, obviously Victor appreciates your friendship," I said, careful to use the present tense. "Sometimes the best friendships are the most simple ones."

She sighed. "I hope. Perhaps after you find him, I can do a better job of it."

She got up from her chair, extending her hand, and I echoed her motion.

"If you think of anything else…," I began.

"I'll call you. I promise."

I walked her to the door and closed it behind her.

 

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