“What next?” I asked Duke.
“Dump the tenants. We get a crew in, do the reno, hang a shingle, bang, we’re in business.”
“I tell Doris?”
“Anything. Everything. We got a portal. You’re strolling through. I’m your… what?”
“Let’s say client.”
“My advice, Fatman. I shouldn’t presume. Your deal. What I’d do? Tell her. I’m not saying honesty is the best policy. Sometimes, it works.”
I looked into my wine, considered another gulp.
Duke pushed his chair back. “I got to get going,” he said.
“You’re on a schedule?”
“You think okay, I’m dead, I’m off the clock. You know what? The meetings never end. Pimlipper, Graydon, they love a sit-down. You’d think they’re still billing by the hour. You don’t believe it when people say it’s not about the money. Then you’re dead and it’s not about the money. The sound of their own voices, it’s like a drug for them.”
“Right.” Duke stood stood slowly. His joints popped, creaked. I followed him back to the coal bin. He opened the portal.
“Lock it up tight,” Duke said. “You don’t want every dead Dick and Harry wandering through.”
As soon as Duke crossed the threshold I barred the door.
The sun cracked the horizon as I returned to our bedroom. First of November. Day of the Dead. Gray light. Bare trees. Leaves blowing in the street.
Inside Doris’s mansion, gloomy shadows, dark corners, the usual sounds. Creakings, groanings, a pop and snap, thousands of boards and pipes expanding, contracting, bumping up against each other and pulling away, as if the house were a living thing.
Doris was a lump under the duvet.
The furniture came with the place. It was period merchandise from the land grab era, all of it carved, dark, heavy. Duke’s bed was a custom piece, too elaborate to scrap but too creepy to love. He’d had significant portions of the kamasutra carved into the four-poster. The centerpiece of this extravagance was my naked sweetheart, posing Venus-style. It would have been one thing if I had commissioned it. But I hadn’t.
“Nnnnuuhh,” Doris said.
“What you mean, pies?”
She pushed back the duvet. Doris wasn’t a nightgown type of gal. Even after so many years, I had trouble in these circumstances focusing on what she said.
“Pipes. I said, pipes. Was that banging pipes?”
“Duke,” I said. “He stopped by. There’s a portal in the coal bin.”
She groaned. How I was to take that noise I really couldn’t say.
Tomorrow: How does he look? she wondered.