As far as Colby could tell, the Eppes had never thrown out anything, as the boxes stacked into the rafters attested to.
“What are we looking for again?” Colby asked
“Blueprints for the South Bayview projects,” Alan answered. “I advised against the builder twenty years ago. Now the place is a crumbling toxic hell hole, the tenants are suing, and the city has conveniently and happily lost the original prints.”
“Are they lost ‘cause you’ve got them?”
“You bet. That project was dirty stem to stern. I felt this mess coming ages ago. Try that box.”
Colby pulled down another box that seemed heavy for its size and opened it. It felt like archeology. The first layer was old receipts, then some finger paintings, the colors long faded, then pay dirt. Baby photos! Colby grinned and dug through the thick pile until he found a little boy with a plastic six shooter and curly hair.
“Alan, is this Don?” He held up the photo.
“Oh God, put that down. He’d kill if those ever saw the light of day.”
Colby pulled out another photo of a toddler holding a ‘no nukes’ sign. Colby slipped that into a pocket for future black mail usage. At the bottom, Colby picked a black and white photo that for a moment he thought it was Charlie on a really bad hair day. He realized it had to be Alan but he had no idea who the tall lanky guy with the slightly silly smile was. “Hey Alan, great hair.”
Alan looked up at the photo, flushed, then quickly looked away. “Jewfro. Only achievable with the right combination of humidity and lack of hygiene. Very popular. Drove the girls wild.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“Ah...” Alan stuttered for a split second. “McKinney, Donald McKinney. Mad Scottish Poet I met hiking in Spain.”
“Really?” Colby picked up another photo of the two men. “You two hang out a lot?”
“Well, we got stuck in this freak monsoon in the mountains. Spent three days in a cave living off cheep wine and salty cheese. Ah…we hiked around for a couple months after that since we were heading the same direction. Parted company around Northern Italy, I think.”
'Oh Alan.’ Colby thought 'If I weren’t FBI you might have gotten away with that.' Colby pulled out about a dozen photos of the two men. Reasonably innocent on the surface, yet it could be argued that their hips met a little too closely and perhaps they turned towards each other just a hair.
“I met Margaret after that trip you know,” Alan continued. “Headed home, got a job, met her practically the first day. Next thing you know, marriage, house, Don’s on the way.”
'Of course,' Colby thought 'and Donald the mad Scottish poet is just a memory. Donald, Donald, Don. Oh God!'
“You ever write him?” Colby asked gently.
Alan gave him a hard look and neither man was kidding each other anymore. “And say what? ‘Remember me? We had a two month drunken fling forty years ago. I would have written but the whole wife and kids thing got in the way.’”
“Well, I’d phrase it better.”
“Colby, the past is dead and buried and it wasn’t anything to discuss at the time. You think you and Charlie have got problems? What we were doing was illegal half the time. The other half it was a medical condition to be cured in nasty ways. It would have been easier to come home with a case of syphilis than a six foot Scotsmen in tow.”
“Still,” Colby held out the photos. “Looks like it was a good summer.”
Alan willed his hands not to shake as he opened the box, a Royal Post seal glaring at him brightly. The tape split easily under the kitchen knife and he picked up the hand-written letter folded neatly on top.
My apologies for the delay in writing back. I moved to the south coast a few years ago. Nice thing about small towns though, they’ll forward your mail until doomsday. It was a lovely surprise to get your letter. My kids keep nagging me to get a computer so they can email me. Why not drop it in the post I say. There’s a greater civility to it. Or perhaps I’m just old.
I thought you might be writing for your Dead t-shirt back. I found it in the bottom of my rucksack when I got back to the island. I’ve been packing it around all these years, always meaning to send it back to you. It’s probably worth a pretty penny by now. ‘Vintage’ I think the kids call it.
Alan reached into the box and pulled out a very old Grateful Dead T-Shirt. He was fairly sure he could still smell the cheep Italian hash on it.
‘Also, do you remember that mad Frenchman with the new fangled instant camera? Well, you’ll never believe what I found.’
Alan looked into the box again. At the bottom was a faded Polaroid that was truly incriminating. Donald had a sheet wrapped around him in a sort of toga/kilt thing and Alan was in short shorts, sandals and not much else, plus holding a very suspicious looking cigarette. Though you couldn’t see Donald’s hands it was easy to guess where they somewhere inappropriate on Alan’s body. Alan quickly looked around and slipped the photo into his shirt pocket.
‘Truth be told I have no recollection of that night, though considering the number of empties in the photo, I’m not surprised.
It’s raining here in Dorset right now. The locals are complaining but it’s practically tropical compared to the North Sea winds blowing down off the artic. I’ve got a little cottage down here with a kitchen garden and a few chickens. The old lady kicked my sorry arse to the curb as soon as the kids were grown, so I’ve been fending for myself for a while now.
I have to confess I’ve been thinking of you lately, which made your letter that much nicer. Remember our Spanish cave? It had a jasmine plant growing halfway over the front and when the rain would let up the smell would fill the air. We had no such thing in the Hebrides, too cold for such an exotic beast, but a former occupant of my cottage was ambitious and for a week each summer I have a jasmine bush in bloom. The first time I woke to that smell the memories hit me like a brick up the side of the head. I spent the week craving salty cheese, among other things.
I don’t know if you travel much anymore. I suppose you’re as old as I am for we can never really freeze people the way we can in our memories, but should you make it to the islands, come to Dorset and I’ll show your around. Come in summer when the jasmine is blooming.
Yours in memory,
“Dad? What’s wrong?”
Alan’s head shot up to find Charlie and Colby standing in the doorway. “What?”
Alan’s hand went to his face to find his eyes and cheeks wet. “It’s nothing.”
Alan forced a smile. “Just milk that spilled long before you were born.” Alan packed up the box quickly and headed to his room. He gave his son a quick kiss and Colby a pat on the cheek as he left. Colby’s eye’s quickly flickered down to the box and he gave a slight smile.
“What was that about?” Charlie asked.
Colby, just shrugged.