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The Gemino Prospect
By PJ Johnson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 PJ Johnson
All rights reserved.
A large crowd was gathered at the graveside. A light drizzle fell from a gray sky, and black umbrellas formed an odd mushroom for those congregated. Winter was coming, evidenced by a crisp bite in the air that would soon turn into a bone-chilling cold.
Though Luther and Melissa had never been religious, a Lutheran minister was contracted to perform the ceremony. Luther said the humor of it would have made Melissa smile, and it gave him a final memory of that twinkle in her eye, now forever gone.
He kept his composure as the minister finished the short ceremony. Luther took a handful of dirt and cast it upon the casket. With no more to say, he turned and walked to the limousine provided by the funeral home. Sam and Brent walked with him, both solemn for the moment and silent for their friend. Halfway to the limo, Luther stopped and looked around, taking it all in.
"I don't know what to do," he said in a slight whisper, his voice cracking from grief.
Luther's two friends could only glance at one another. Both knew that words meant nothing at a time like this. Brent had to stretch to put a hand on Luther's shoulder, trying to reassure him.
"I mean," Luther continued, "she was everything to me. Everything."
"I know," Brent whispered, squeezing Luther's shoulder.
Luther pulled away from his friend's grasp. "No, you don't," he countered, not angry. "When it comes to handling cases and arguing in court, that's where I'm at home. That's what I'm good at. Melissa made sure of that. She made sure that I was the best at what I did. Apart from that, I don't know anything."
Sam stepped up, a confused look on his face. "What do you mean, Sharkman?" he asked, using the nickname Luther had picked up in college. "You're one of the most brilliant men I know."
Luther smiled and shook his head. "You would think, huh?" Luther looked at the ground and dug at it with a shoe. "She handled it all, Sam. I don't know what bills I have, who I owe — if anybody. Hell, I don't even know how much money I've got. The funeral home told me Melissa had already bought our plots and everything. I didn't even know it. She took care of me in ways I had no idea about."
"Well," Sam said, "now's the time to find out."
Luther looked up at him, a lone tear slowly descending one cheek.
"What do you mean?"
"I'll come over tomorrow, and we'll go through her files," Sam offered. "I know from visiting your house that she had an office. We can get you sorted out in a couple of days. I'll also get Waterford to help out, once we know what's what. Okay?"
"Jan's a good CPA," Luther said as he nodded. "Hell, as far as we know, Melissa's had her on retainer for years, you know, doing our books and all."
"And if she has, then all your financial problems are solved," Brent said, being careful not to touch Luther again.
For a few seconds, Luther lost it. He buried his face in both hands and sobbed like a little boy. Sam and Brent were uncomfortable, never having seen their friend like this.
Finally, Luther reestablished a stout face and wiped away the tears. "I'm sorry, fellas," he managed to say. "It's just that I'm so, so lost."
Sam tried once more to help. "Tomorrow okay then?"
Luther nodded. "What time?"
Sam looked at his watch. "Oh, I don't know. I'll be through with the Leary deposition around eleven. It will take an hour or two to get everything situated at the office. How about three in the afternoon? Would that suit all right?"
"Sure," Luther agreed. "Three would be fine."
"Good," Sam said, reaching out and squeezing Luther's arm. "It's settled. Tomorrow we'll find out what's been going on for the last twenty-five years."
The three men then walked silently to the waiting limo. After seeing Luther inside, they both watched as he was driven away.
"What do you think you'll find tomorrow?" Brent asked, still watching the limo fade from view.
"I have no idea," Sam answered. "I have no idea."
Snarled traffic kept Luther from reaching the apartment in Manhattan for two hours after leaving the cemetery. He didn't mind though. The time gave him an opportunity to see the world in a light he had never seen it before. It seemed so surreal for people to go on about their daily lives as if Melissa had never existed. He watched them drive, walk, ride bicycles, and converse with one another like nothing had happened.
Of course, nothing has happened to them, he thought.
He watched a young couple walk into a Starbucks and then went back to happier times in his memory, reliving moments just like that when he and Melissa were happiest. Luther had never imagined losing her. All their lives, both had lived like there would never be an end to their love and their being together. Now all there was were memories.
The limo arrived at his home, and he thanked the driver for all the help, tipping him fifty dollars. He didn't wait for the man to drive off but walked directly to the front door. The doorman welcomed him and opened it wide for his entrance. Luther went inside, and the doorman softly closed the door behind him.
To him, the split-level Melissa had bought and put so much work into in order to make it a home was now more like a mausoleum. It was deathly quiet. The heater was on, but all Luther could feel was the coldness of being alone. He took off his coat and left it in the one chair Melissa had placed in the foyer.
Directly to his left was the den. Melissa had decorated it herself with dark, ornately crafted furniture to give the room a feel of being old. The stone fireplace she had installed was immaculate, and a large, cushy sofa was situated in front of it. A solid-oak coffee table was between it and the fireplace. Luther could see them both sitting there, enjoying the fire and drinking cups of hot cocoa. He took his eyes from it and started for the stairs.
Luther couldn't bring himself to look to the right. That was Melissa's office. It was where he would find out the next day exactly what she had been doing for him while they were together. He wanted to go in but felt it would be better to wait, to have someone with him when he did. It would be emotional.
He smiled, realizing he hadn't been in her office for more than fifteen years. Luther couldn't recollect where the spare key was for the door. Melissa kept it locked at all times, even when she was inside. The office was her place of prominence in the relationship, and she kept it and what it contained a guarded secret. She took her duties seriously and expected Luther to do the same with his.
Melissa wasn't a tyrant or a woman who lorded over the home. She was always respectful of Luther and always had time to be his wife, friend, lover, and confidante. But when it came to their finances, Luther was left out completely. A few times he had asked her how much money they had, and her reply had been that it wasn't any of his business. However, she would immediately follow that up by asking how much he wanted. If he told her, she would make sure he got it if she felt they could afford it. If he was just being curious, he left her presence without the requested information.
Reaching the top of the stairs, he turned right and walked into the master bedroom. Without hesitation, he flung himself on the bed and cried for over an hour. Then, exhausted from the effort, he fell into a hard sleep and did not awaken for several hours. When he did, Luther found that the night had crept in, and he was in total darkness. He waited for his eyes to adjust, but even then he could see only shadows.
"This will be my life from now on," he whispered. "I'll always be in the dark without you."
He rose up and turned on the bedside lamp Melissa had used for her nighttime reading. Luther caressed her pillow before going into the master bath. He took a long shower, allowing the hotness of the water to make him feel refreshed.
Consciously deciding to forego clothing, he went downstairs and walked to the rear of the apartment where the kitchen was located. Many friends and well-wishers had left tons of food prior to the funeral, and he suddenly realized he was hungry.
On the kitchen counter was a veritable smorgasbord. He took his time surveying the spread and tasting the dishes before putting some of the best offerings on a plate. Luther gasped as his naked butt touched the cold, wooden chair at the breakfast table, but he was able to keep seated. He ate a few tidbits in silence but quickly tired of the exercise, pushing the still-full plate away.
Luther made his way to the den and sat on the sofa, staring blankly into the cold fireplace. He didn't care if it ever burned again.
"If Melissa's light has gone out," he said to the fireplace, "why should you still have one?"
After sitting there for over half an hour, Luther suddenly realized he had nothing to do. Or, better put, he didn't know what to do there — in that apartment. He had never done anything where it was concerned. He had never touched an appliance or cleaning instrument. He didn't know how to cook or even use the dishwasher. Luther had tried to get Melissa to hire some help many years earlier, but she would have none of it. Even though he didn't know how much money they had, he was quite sure they could afford a maid or someone to help her keep things tidy and in place. She adamantly refused, with that twinkle in her eye.
"I don't want anyone else taking care of you while I'm alive," she told him one day.
Luther chuckled when thinking what she followed that up with.
"Besides," she had said, "If I die first, you won't live long without me."
He remembered them both laughing and Melissa falling into his arms so they could kiss as passionately as the first time their lips had met.
"And why is it I won't live long without you?" he had toyed.
"You just can't," she had replied like a small child, giggling. "I want you so totally dependent upon me that you won't be able to live without me."
Luther had looked deeply into her eyes, a serious expression on his face. "I promise that if you die first, I won't be far behind."
Melissa's eyes had twinkled with delight and she had kissed him again.
"That's sweet," she had said.
Luther remembered that intense foreplay had followed the conversation, and they had made honeymoon love on the sofa. Soon they had fallen fast asleep in each other's arms.
He cried some more before finally picking up a bottle of Scotch. Returning to the kitchen, he retrieved a small glass and plopped five ice cubes into it. Luther almost overfilled the glass and gulped a large portion with one swallow. He wheezed at the burn as it flowed down his throat. He returned to the den and the couch, and for the next hour, he drank Scotch until he couldn't stand up. In a fitful state, Luther passed out on the sofa — still naked — and did not awake until late the next morning.
* * *
Sam arrived at Luther's an hour past schedule. He pulled up to the curb and hurriedly exited the car, briefcase in hand. One of the valet attendants took his keys and quickly drove the car to the garage. When he made it to Luther's front door, Sam opted to use knuckles for knocking instead of the ostentatious gargoyle knocker Melissa had found at a flea market. You had to grab its gnarly, long-fanged head to knock on the door, but Sam was intimidated by it. He once confessed this to Melissa, who then couldn't stop laughing for several minutes. She knew the piece was out of character for her, but she had fallen in love with it the moment she saw it.
There was no answer to his knock, so Sam decided to use the damn thing anyway. He could hear the sound reverberate through the dwelling.
"Just a minute," a muffled voice answered.
He used the knocker again, with more force, to hurry his friend along. A few seconds later, the door opened to reveal Luther.
"Hey, Sam," he said, stepping back to let him in. "You're late."
Luther left Sam to close the door and walked hurriedly into the den. Sam followed him with a look of bemusement on his face.
"You look busy," he remarked.
"Yeah," Luther said, not looking back and continuing to the coffee table. "I can't find the key to Melissa's office."
He stopped at the table where he had gathered a collection of boxes and envelopes to search. Sam could tell Luther had been at this for a few hours. While his friend was opening another box, Sam put down the briefcase and watched for a few moments.
"You got any coffee?" he asked.
"Sure," Luther replied without looking up. "It's in the kitchen. Help yourself."
Sam left the man to his task and made his way to Luther's kitchen. He poured a cup of black coffee, and on his way back to the den, he stopped at the office door. Sam reached up and ran his hand across the door facing, retrieving a key. He found that it fit and turned the lock on the office door. He relocked it, wishing to give Luther the honors.
Smiling, he entered the den and tossed the elusive key on top of the coffee table.
"Looking for this?" He smirked, sipping the hot coffee.
Luther grabbed it and smiled at Sam.
"How do you know this is the one?"
"I checked it out," Sam answered. "But I left the opening of the door for you."
"Where did you find it?"
"On top of the door facing," Sam replied. "There must not be too much to hide, or she wouldn't have made it so easy."
Luther shook his head.
"No, she trusted me," Luther said, looking at the key as if it were a long-lost memento. "Just like I trusted her."
The two men walked to the office door. Luther hesitated for a moment, knowing the rush of feelings could very well overcome him once he looked inside. Sam put a hand on his shoulder for reassurance. Luther inserted the key and turned the lock, gently opening the door.
The office was windowless, requiring them to flip a light switch to illuminate what it contained. Both men were astonished at the sight. Except for the entry, all four walls were equipped with deep shelving, and there wasn't a spare opening left for even a piece of paper. Melissa had placed a large desk near the back. On top of it were stacks of folders and three computers that were still on. Tall filing cabinets adorned each end of the desk. More filing cabinets of differing sizes were placed together in rows that left just enough room for a person to get in between them. The layout of items gave the twenty-square-foot room the quality of a prison cell on death row. Sam cast a glance at Luther.
"This is going to take longer than I thought," he mused.
Luther simply nodded and advanced into Melissa's office. His first thought dealt with the lack of personal furnishings in the room. There were no photos, paintings, or any other decorations hanging on the walls because the shelves took up all available space. The desk possessed no knick-knacks or snacks or anything that might resemble a sense of humanness. It was all business where Melissa was concerned.
"Geez, Sharkman," Sam whispered. "What went on in here?"
Luther slowly shook his head. "I don't know. The last time I was in here was about fifteen years ago. It looked nothing like this."
Sam busied himself looking at the large binders in the shelves that lined the north wall. The only writing on their spines was numbers. There was no other indication what they might contain. He opened a few of them only to find each page filled with symbols and cryptic writing. In the meantime, Luther sat at the desk and brought the monitors back to life.
"Looks like we have to know her passwords to get into these," he remarked.
Sam stepped up behind him and confirmed what Luther had said.
"You don't have them?"
"No," he said. "And I have no idea where to start looking. Kind of like the key."
Luther checked the desk drawers to his left and right. All were locked, but when he tried the middle drawer, it opened.
"That's strange," he said. "Usually this is the one that locks the others."
Sam peered over Luther's shoulder. A small cassette player lay inside — the only item in the drawer. Luther took it out and put the device on the desktop.
"It's got a tape in it," Luther observed.
"Play it," Sam said, taking a position across the desk from Luther.
Luther reached out and pushed the Play button. The wheels on the cassette began to turn. A few seconds went by, and then Melissa's voice came over the tiny speaker.
Excerpted from The Gemino Prospect by PJ Johnson. Copyright © 2016 PJ Johnson. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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