77. They Whispered in Her Ear

How did Doris find out about… everything?

Why did the phone ring at all?

Why was I suddenly a Bitcoin millionaire?

Word of mouth, as Duke said.

What is more impossible than keeping a secret?

Jen told her closest friend, pledged her to silence, whispered in her ear, regretted, briefly, the indiscretion and was, simultaneously, relieved. The burden of secrecy, shared! Let’s raise a glass of wine to that. Let’s get a little weepy. Another glass of wine might be the antidote to the sadness, no? Poor Leo, gone before his time. For once the cliche being true. Leo was indeed gone before his time.

Jen’s friend is no more in her car before the weight of secrecy presses the air out of her lungs. And what was whispered into her ear is now jabbered over the phone to her friend, who is of course pledged to the silence of the tomb. Necessary. Absurd.

Before the week is over, five people know. In a month it’s one hundred. Give it a year and people in China will be talking about the woman who took the hand of God in hers and managed to make a deal.

The mystery being not that Doris found out. The mystery being that I thought, even for a moment, that she would not. The mystery being that it took as long as it did.

A friend told a friend who told a friend who… etcetera, etcetera.

Until finally someone pushed aside Doris’ mess of curls and whispered into her ear a jumble of fact, speculation, falsehoods, opinions.

Some Santa Claus-like character, if in fact he was a human being and not a type of spiritual presence, had appeared on the doorstep of that man — that poor man, what was his name? — who was eventually… there is no good way to say this… barbecued inside his Rolls Royce after he was hit by — some kind of truck — a lumber truck? No! a gas tanker, that’s it! You remember? A river of flaming gas poured down, oh, some street in Saint Paul. Snelling Avenue, maybe, near the Capitol? No, no, he wasn’t wearing a red suit, more like an undertaker. Black, like you could fall into it and disappear.

I am as perceptive as most men. Which is to say, not very. Days may have passed. Weeks. And though I felt that I was walking around with an unpinned grenade in my pocket — the deal with Duke that Doris so bitterly opposed, the escapade or two with Jen — I was not unduly anxious. Or to be more accurate, my anxiety was dulled by my pile of bitcoins. I was like a puppy, ignorant, exhilarated. Pleased with my secret stash. Satisfied that I was a significant figure to that network, still small but stinking rich, of people who dared to stare mortality in the face. Romping with Doris amidst the duvets and pillows. Swagger restored.

And yet and yet and yet. What was that side-long glance from her? Why that intake of breath, that sense that she was about to say something? And then, when I raised a brow and said, “Well?” she would respond with, “Oh, nothing. Whatever it was, I forgot.”

Until one evening, after supper, as I sat on our love seat, the paper spread out beside me. The blue and yellow flames leapt around in our modest gas fireplace. Compared to the hearth in Duke’s library it was like holding up a match. No matter. I was happier than I had ever been while we were bunked up there.

Doris handed me a glass of brandy. She held one for herself. I moved the paper so she could sit but she took the chair across from me.

Doris crossed her legs and stared at the fire for a moment. Then she said, “Charles, we need to have a talk.”

Tomorrow: People gossip, she said.

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