Act One, Scene 2

by Pierre Anton Taylor

headlines S2The funeral was huge and, not surprisingly, resembled a business convention. The social occasion of old Bruce’s death itself required accommodations for those who had come to pay their respects. Politicians, local dignitaries from various denominations, prominent financiers and corporate honchos crowded the large assembly hall. Harold Bruce had made the arrangements with the exclusive Green Cove Country Club for the post interment reception which was beginning to have the air of a celebration on the verge of a cocktail party. Moderate words of tribute were spoken, tearfully, by Trish, his mother, huskily, by Harold, his uncle. Respectful, ardent words by others who had known and worked for and with him, a saint, a devoted father. When it came his turn, as the younger generation should have the final word, he had been as gracious as a psychopath, echoing their praise with a chorus of his own to the gathering of family, friends, and business associates, yet all the while considering that among them was his father’s murderer.

He had stepped away from the reception hall to a wide windowed alcove overlooking the golf course, uncomfortable with the glad handing and the humorous reminiscences of the old and well off, the condolence ballet that seemed so artificial and rehearsed. In the reflection of the glass he imagined the old man in his beige polo shirt standing beside his red roofed golf cart taking a practice swing before teeing off.

God, how he hated that game, a ludicrous spectacle of status played by amateur athletes that doubled as a de facto boardroom for corporate deal makers and politicians. What did the golfers have to gain from Wally Bruce’s death?

He felt anger with himself first of all. And then everyone else. He wanted to confront them. Accuse them.

Old Dad was a centerpiece in the local business community. They could point to him as their good guy, the peak of integrity even though most of them were out and out crooks and fraudsters. The Bruce name on committees and charitable organizations gave them a shiny legitimacy that signaled trust. Although most of that was Trish’s doing, the non-profits, and political committees to free or stop things. And then there was Trish. And Harold, six years younger and same age as mother. Old Dad’s opinion of his brother, “He’s a real fun guy, he’ll grow on you.” And he did, like a cancerous tumor. As vice president of Bruce Enterprises, he steps into the old man’s shoes before they’re even cold. And into the widow’s bed? Is it not what it seems? Now in hindsight, had there always been something between Trish and Harold, signs of undue affection, of favoritism, She was not known as the “Queen” for nothing. Her wish, her whimsy, was her command. She accepted the deference she thought she deserved, watchful for any indication of disaffection or reticence from her liege. He was her husband, father of her only son, although she seemed to treat that almost as an afterthought, and perhaps that was why the Bruce offices, the old Battery Works, held such nostalgic fascination. It had been his nursery. The difficulty of his birth had ruined her, caused her no end of physical ailment, and was an oft repeated litany that mercifully diminished after being installed in various boarding schools in the States and abroad. Now she shamelessly paraded with her brother-in-law, pretender to the throne, the head of the Bruce empire. He, unlike old Dad, would indulge her every whim.

He watched them appear behind him as reflections in the panoramic window

“There you are!” It was always like to Trish to state the obvious.

Harold maintained a grim bulldog visage, his ledge of eyebrow in a frown. The square cut glass in his right fist like an appendage, he leaned a shoulder in. “That was a very eloquent tribute to Wall.”

His father disliked being called Wall but since it was only his brother who dared called him that, he bore it with long suffering tolerance.

Trish put a ring spangled hand on his arm. “It was a powerful eulogy. Your father would be proud.”

He felt himself blush at the insincerity of it all. Maybe even on the verge of tears for the falsehoods he endured. He felt anger with himself first of all. And then everyone else. He wanted to confront them. Accuse them.

“Thank you. There was so much more I could have said. There is so much left unsaid. And to pass away like that. In his prime, some would say. There is so much we, I, don’t know about his last day, his last hours. It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Wayne, he was not a well man, but he hid it from all of us. He had his pride, but as his wife I can say it was pride. He thought he was some kind of super human. Unfortunately he had the heart of a mere mortal. The negotiations were taking their toll on him.”

“But the circumstances. . . .”

“I know, I know, we’ve been through all this before.” Trish put on her practiced long-suffering face and sighed. “The doorman at the Legacy Tower saw him at around 11 that evening. He saw your father get into the penthouse elevator. Alone. He was the only one with a key. The trouble alarm sounded because the door to the elevator wouldn’t close after it arrived at the penthouse.”

“I think he panicked,” Harold offered.

“Father?”

“No, the doorman. He wasn’t the regular on that shift, but Ronald, who normally manned those hours had called in sick earlier that evening and so this other man who was actually a trainee didn’t know the procedure.”

“Which was?” Wayne had heard the official oft repeated version and they were all remarkably the same which should have allayed suspicion, but still he doubted and his doubt required reassurances.

“Why are we replaying the morbid details? We’ve been over them a thousand times,” Trish exaggerated.

Harold continued as if recounting someone else’s mistakes would give him satisfaction. “So he called the fire department.”

“Shouldn’t he have?” Wayne knew that here was where the details became rather vague.

“He should have called the night manager who has the key to the service elevator that would open to the penthouse. That was the protocol.”

legacy towers“But wasn’t it an emergency?”

Harold offered a placating gesture. “He didn’t know that. It could have been merely a mechanical problem. He did call up to the penthouse. And when no one answered he called the fire department.”

“So the police tagged along as well. And that only complicated matters,” Trish added with a tone of disgust.

“The commotion roused the night manager and they were able to get to the penthouse where they found. . . .”

“Oh, I don’t want to hear this. It is so undignified. Why couldn’t he have died in bed, alone or not, befitting a man of his stature!” Trish was on the verge of real tears not so much at the death of her husband but at the indignity of it all.

Harold shrugged and set his jaw with resolve to finish the story. “Wall had fallen, must have happened just as the door to the elevator opened, and wedged in the doorframe, triggered the alarm. The police should never had been called, Trish is right, it was a medical emergency. But because he was who he was, the cops at the scene called downtown, and downtown sent a detective, and because they sent a detective, they had to alert the medical examiner. . . .”

“They were going to take him to the morgue! Fortunately our lawyer, Dr. Linus Pall, and your father’s physician, put a stop to that.” Trish became clearly agitated.

“But the cause of death, it seems rather vague.”

“Death is vague, darling boy. It was his heart, your father had a bad heart. You’ll have to accept that.”

“He had a good heart, Mother. That I can guarantee. And I am my father’s son.”

“I hope you’re not going to make trouble now, are you, Wayne? Do something silly like call for an autopsy?” Harold squared his shoulders and became very grim along the jaw line where pink tinged the skin under his five o’clock shadow.

Wayne waited out the silence before giving a smile and a shrug. “No, of course not. Life goes on, open for business. I have my life, he had his. I have a new project I’m pursuing.”

“Oh mountain climbing again, Mount Everest, was it?”

“K2, Mother.”

“That as well. Black belting in some tournament or other? Sky diving? Jumping off bridges on a rubber band. I can never keep track.”

“No, actually, it’s something I’m quite excited about. It is local. I had been thinking about doing it before Dad died. We had talked about it briefly several times and he seemed in agreement.” Wayne inclined his head to each of them. “I will be renovating the old battery works and restoring it as a local landmark named in memory of Dad and at the same time preserving some of the history of that area.”

Harold arched his eyebrows in a show of interest. “You’re suggesting a gentrification project?”

“That’s a horribly depressed side of the city, dear. I heard the city council wants to bulldoze the entire area. That old foundry is in a high crime district. I read in the paper just this morning that yesterday or maybe the day before, three citizens were assaulted by a crazy masked man! There are daylight robberies!”

“My project would address the poverty in that area by hiring local labor and artisans to do the restoration work and maintenance thereby giving them a stake in their community.”

“Oh, dear, you’re starting to sound like a communist.”

Harold cleared his throat. “A good idea, my boy, but I’m afraid that will be impossible. We are in the middle of negotiating with a toxic cleanup fund contractor to comply with the federal. . . .”

“I’ve read the suit, and our inhouse analysis. I’m having my lab at Bruce Advanced Technical Systems review the soil samples from the Environmental Impact Report. I can bring the cost in lower than the big contractors by hiring locally. . . .”

“It’s a losing proposition,” Harold insisted, shaking his head and glaring fiercely, a family trait. “You’re crazy if you think you’ll get any decent returns, even after the entire issue of liability. . . .”

“Yes, listen to Harold, dear boy, how will you ever recoup your returns on your investment. What bank. . . ?”

Harold cleared his throat. “The funding for the new Defense Department contract is in the pipeline and everything is on track?”

“Once the toxic issue is settled, the old factory site will be turned into a historical park in memory of Dad’s civic contributions to the culture of the city.”

“A park? Those old brick relics? And for free. Harold is right, you are mad.”

“There’ll be a museum.”

“Of old batteries?”

“There would an historical display, of course, but primarily it will house my world renowned collection of classic cars.”

“Of course,” Harold nodded appreciatively, “they were part of the big auto show in Vagas a few years back.”

“Another one of your hobbies. When are you going to settle down, get married. Lotte has been asking after you.”

Wayne ignored his mother addressing Harold instead “Collectors and car enthusiasts the world over will flock to the museum just to be photographed alongside a favorite classic by a professional staff. For a fee, of course.”

Harold had shifted his eyes to the side making a calculation. “That’s a rather large parcel of land for a museum. What are you going to do with the rest of it? Parking lot?

“For some of it I’m sure. We’ll have to accommodate visitors. And much of it can be landscaped as a park. The old brick sheds will house the museum with certain alterations and additions. Perhaps an art gallery and a community center. I’m having one of our architects prepare a feasibility study and I’ll be taking over the old administration building as a satellite office of Bruce Advanced Technical Systems. That way I can keep an eye on the reconstruction of the old battery works while managing the research firm.”

Harold cleared his throat. “The funding for the new Defense Department contract is in the pipeline and everything is on track?”

“Red Ball.”

Trish sighed. “He would always say that when a plan of his was top priority. That, ‘going great guns” whatever that supposed to mean.” She smiled at her son. “Spoken like a true captain of industry!” She was turning away as she made the proclamation. The conversation had become boring and not a little impertinent.

Harold followed, a muttered “We have to talk” as he strode away.

Wayne returned his gaze to the wide window panorama and the fading day rendering the glass all the more opaque. Another shadow loomed behind him and was reflected in the glass. He turned, smiling, extending his hand.

“Ray Tso! It has been a long while! How many years?”

Ray returned the smile and the handshake. “I had to come and pay my respects. Your old man was one of those unique adults you knew you could trust.”

“Thanks, Ray, that’s good of you to say. And how about you? More kids? Still working for the District Attorney?”

“No and yes.”

“I’m glad you came. I have a favor to ask of you. I have to see the medical report of when they brought my father in.”

“I don’t think I can do that, Wayne. Why? Is something suspicious about his death? I would have heard.”

“No, no, just curiosity, and grief, I suppose. It feels so unresolved. I had talked to him on the phone not more than a week ago.”

“You’re not going to ask for an autopsy are you?”

Wayne gave a wan smile. “No, but you are the second person who’s mentioned it.”

Ray nodded in understanding. “Let me put you in touch with the detective who handled the case. His name is Gordon James. He might be able to help you.”

“Ok, put in a good word for me.”

“No problem,” Ray answered scribbling on the back of his business card and handing it to Wayne. “You know, when I walked up behind you I could see your reflection in the window and you looked just like your old dad.”

redroof gc“Crazy,” Wayne smiled, tucking the card into his inside jacket pocket, and glanced back at the tee box now in darkness and imagined the red canvas roof of the golf cart dropping down behind the mound and heading for the fairway. A silent vow welled up and tightened his jaw. Justice. Justice for old Dad. If it’s the last thing.

He accompanied Ray Tso back to the reception hall and stopped to view the thinning crowd of attendees from the top of the steps leading down. The black clad and somber gathered in clusters exchanging reminiscences and business cards, nodding gravely over their cocktails.

Off to one side where a shrouded grand piano sat unattended by the large floor to ceiling doors leading out to the terrace, Charlotte and her brother, Lawrence Taste, heirs to the vast Taste fortune, and Doctor Linus Pall appeared to be having a purposeful conversation. Charlotte, tall, willowy, blonde, a perfect example of privilege and beauty that even her subdued yet stylish mourning outfit could not suppress. Her long blond hair piled atop her head beneath a black lace doily, she was listening intently to something Linus Pall was saying. She must have sensed his gaze as she turned her head toward him and gave a weak smile. She lay a slender hand on Pall’s arm and said something to her brother before leaving them and walking his way. Larry Taste frowned at her departure and followed it with a scowl directed at Wayne. There was no love lost between them. Like Charlotte, her brother was a carefully sculpted specimen of the handsome aristocrat with a full crop of disheveled sun bleached hair breaching the collar of his casually tailored dark suit, fashionable sideburns and a moustache over a mouth of perfect teeth.

Charlotte had the same perfect teeth as she greeted him with a slight smile and a sad downturn to her beautiful blue eyes.

“Wayne, I’m so sorry,” she started but he shook his head. It was an emotional moment for both of them, her eyes welling up with tears and he trying to tamp down the sorrow and anger rising in his chest.

She instead threw her arms around him and sobbed into his lapel. As she caught her breath she pulled her head back and stared into his eyes. “I, I think I understand,” she said as if the words were strangling her, “You’re right, of course, to postpone the engagement. It’s not a good time. You have so much to deal with now.”

She was repeating back the message he had left on her answering machine almost word for word. It made him doubt the sincerity of her words.

“I thought the occasion should be put on hold considering the circumstances. Business has imposed impossible demands with Dad’s passing and I have to step in more actively now. The company is vulnerable to corporate raiders and ripe for a hostile takeover. Bruce Enterprises has to be prepared for that. I knew you’d understand.”

Larry Taste had followed his sister and wasn’t as contrite. “I ought to punch you in the face, Bruce! What kind of ill-mannered asshole calls off an engagement on the telephone? She’s lucky to be rid of you!” Taste had aggressively placed his face directly in Wayne’s line of sight to make his point.

A great calmness overcame him and deflected the rage with disarming acquiescence. “You’re right, she is lucky to be rid of me. I am cursed by an insane constancy that demands a balance be restored, wrongs righted, justice meted. It will not allow me to rest and it would not be reasonable to inflict my dark obsession on someone I love ”

Charlotte tugged on her brother’s arm, eyes agog at Wayne’s admission. “Larry, no!”

“You’re a psycho!” Larry spat.

“I am mad.”


End, Scene 2, Cue Scene 3

1 thought on “Act One, Scene 2

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